Our Lenten journey of forty days begins Ash Wednesday. We are marked with ashes at the beginning of this season as a reminder of our frail humanity and our total dependence upon God. We recall that when Jesus began his public ministry, he did so with a call to conversion, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
Our forty-day observance recalls his stay in the wilderness before beginning that ministry. Of course, “forty” is significant in the Old Testament, as well. It rained forty days and forty nights while Noah and his family awaited a new creation out of the waters of the Great Flood. It was forty days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai as he waited for the Law. Elijah, too, fasted for forty days on his journey to Mount Horeb to meet the Lord.
How shall we mark our own forty-day journey? The clues to a “proper” observance of Lent are to be found in the Gospel for Ash Wednesday. The Church has long advised her members to a threefold discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving throughout the Lenten season.
Prayer is essential to the life of every Christian. If we are to discern God’s will, we must know that will. We can only know his will through conversing with him. How much time might we devote to prayer this Lent? Obviously those of us living “in the world” have certain obligations that that a cloistered nun of monk would not have. But each must spend some time in prayer – whether before the Blessed Sacrament, or in the privacy and quiet of our own room.
Fasting helps us to master our senses. When we do without, we show ourselves that the we are able to overcome the desires of the flesh. Our sacrifice helps unite us with the suffering Christ who sacrificed his own life to the Father for our sake. We never suffer alone – in his compassion he is beside us, giving us the strength we need to carry on.
Almsgiving refers to works of charity done in the name of those who are less fortunate. Our fasting can help open our eyes to the needs and sufferings of those around us. We seek to alleviate the suffering of these individuals through donations of food, clothing, and monetary resources. Almsgiving allows us to put the corporal works of mercy into practice in our daily lives by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter to the homeless, etc.
How might the Lord be calling you to challenge yourself this Lent? Will you commit to more time in prayer and the study of Sacred Scripture? Will you go without – as Christ himself did – as he prepared to begin his public ministry? Will you give to those less fortunate without counting the cost? May we grow in our love of God as we detach ourselves from the things of this world and rely more on him who first loved us!