Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lent invites us to look at our lives

"There seems to be an awful amount to Lent; it may seem quite complicated on the page. Over the centuries the Church has simplified the Lenten observance to three: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Prayer is coming before God in our creatureliness, in our beauty and our disfigurement to seek a relationship with our Father, with Jesus our brother and Son of God, with the Holy Spirit who gives life to all our activity. Without reflection and prayer, our Lent will not go anywhere. We need to seek God in silence so that we may listen to him and to the truth of the Gospel, to respond to it and to gaze on its challenge or beauty, Fasting is a most ancient form of penance; many of us have been impressed by the dedication of Moslems to fasting. Fasting can serve as a symbol of what we are determined to do or avoid in Lent. What should we do for Lent? Which is better to give up something or to choose something to do? It depends. We need to go back to our check-up. Each of us could have a different result of a medical examination. The doctor might prescribe medicine for some people, recommend diets or activities for others. When we look at the various areas of our spiritual lives, which I put under the headings of head, heart, chest, stomach and limbs, we will see where our weaknesses are, and then we can choose what is most beneficial for our spiritual growth. There are more Lenten practices than giving up sweets, smoking or alcohol, or attending Mass more often in the week. What would be good for you? Fasting will cover what we need to do or avoid that will make us more spiritually healthy; it will necessarily involve what may be somewhat unpleasant, difficult or painful. That saint of common sense, the 16th century Teresa of Avila spoke of those who claimed that their health would suffer if they fasted; she said that to keep in what should not be said, was a fast that everyone could practice. Lenten practices need some imagination.

Finally, almsgiving is the aspect of penance that invites us to look after those who are poor in any way. We are familiar with giving money for charity. School charities are surely a most important feature of education. It invites pupils to look to the needs of others. It gives very important possibilities for bonding between pupils and with their teachers. The commitment to a charity is more than the money that may be raised. We learn about the situation of others for whom we may be raising funds. We may not have much money and may not be able to give much to charity, it is important to give at least a little. But there is something that all of us have to give, which is our time. I know that people say that our society is time poor. Yes. But all could give some time to others, over and above our duties. It might be as little as an hour or two per week that we commit to some needy people, to an organisation of group that serves the community or Church.

So this Lent invites us to look at our lives, to see what our weaknesses are. Then we can engage in the three classical forms of penance: prayer, fasting and almsgiving in accordance with our possibilities."

-- The meaning of Lent with some Carmelite insights by Christopher O'Donnell, OCarm

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