We are now entering the 3rd week of Lent. This Sunday’s Gospel message of the barren fig tree may relate to how some of us may feel at times. On the outside, we may look fine, but interiorly some of us may be struggling with doubts, fears, anxiety, depression, lack of hope or faith and feel that we are no longer bearing fruit. The Season of Lent reminds us to never despair, but rather to focus our hope on the person of Jesus who wants the best for us. Jesus continues to spiritually nurture, cultivate and fertilize the soil around our spiritual life with the hope that it will reawaken within us the joy of producing abundant fruit. In order for us to produce this spiritual fruit, Jesus wants us to be co-workers with him. He has given us three spiritual disciplines to help nurture, cultivate and fertilize our spiritual life – Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving form an integral unity in our spiritual preparation. They are so integral that they work in unison and are in essence the most efficient tools to help us reach our ultimate desire and goal in life.
Through the discipline of ‘prayer’, we not only connect with God, but in an intimate way, unite and integrate our will with God’s Will. This union of love with God our Creator ultimately sheds a light on the state of our soul, where we are able to see more clearly the obstacles in our lives that keep us from the fulfillment of all our desires. This is where the spiritual discipline of ‘fasting’ comes into play. ‘Fasting’ is a spiritual discipline that assists us in removing those obstacles that impede us from loving God with our whole mind, heart, body and soul. Combined, the disciplines of ‘prayer’ and ‘fasting’ help us grow in our love relationship with God. This love relationship ultimately overflows into the desire to share this love with others, and this ultimately leads us to the spiritual practice of ‘Almsgiving’.
Of the three spiritual disciplines, almsgiving is probably the least known and yet, one of the most important of the three disciplines. Let’s take a look at the Lenten practice of Almsgiving and how it is so important in the development of our Spiritual life. Almsgiving is rooted in “the Greek word “elemosyne” which comes from “éleos”, meaning compassion and mercy. Originally it indicated the attitude of the merciful person and, later, all works of charity for the needy.” (Pope John Paul II)
It is from the spiritual discipline of Almsgiving that we as Catholics practice the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. The spiritual and corporal works of mercy are charitable actions and which we come to the aid of our neighbor in their spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, and comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms (money) to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity; it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.
The spiritual and corporal works of mercy seek to help alleviate human misery – material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illness and death. Such misery is an obvious sign of our inherited human frailty and need for salvation as a consequence of original sin.
We are called to perform the works of mercy, according to our ability and the need of our neighbor. It is important to remember that ordinary deeds done every day to relieve the corporal or spiritual needs of others are true works of mercy, if done in the name of Christ. Taking care of children, teaching children and adults about the faith, caring for elderly parents or a sick child or spouse are some examples.
My prayer during the remainder of the Lenten Season is that we, as a parish family, will continue to grow and bear fruit in overabundance allowing Christ to transform our lives and those around us through the Lenten spiritual disciplines of Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.
Peace in Christ,