Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday which opens the Lenten Season. We will embark on forty days (not including Sundays) of conversion, of turning back to the Lord in preparation to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection at Easter. In the Gospel on Ash Wednesday, we will receive a call from Jesus to pray, to fast, and to give alms.
The US Bishops, in their “Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence,” note that in a most profound way, the three spiritual exercises identified by Jesus are directed toward the nurturing of relationships. Our Lenten practices are aimed at healing and restoring our relationships: our relationships with God, and our relationships with our neighbors. Prayer involves listening to and responding to God’s daily call. As such, prayer sustains and nurtures our relationship with the Persons of the Most Blessed Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Prayer opens us to receive God’s guidance and God’s consolation we so desperately need in our daily lives. Prayer allows us to discern our proper vocation and persevere in it. It helps keep the flame of God’s love burning in our hearts. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2558) St. Thérèse of Lisieux defines prayer as “a surge of the heart…a simple look turned toward heaven…a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” Throughout the Gospels, Jesus makes it clear that faith, humility, trust in God’s faithfulness, perseverance, conversion of heart, and conforming one’s will to God’s will, are key elements of efficacious prayer.
The second pillar of Lent is fasting. The US Bishops say that fasting assists us in getting our life in order. Most of us, if not all of us, have to deal with areas of servitude, “whether in regard to smoking or alcohol consumption, misused sexuality, uncontrolled gambling…spiritual obsessions, use of stimulants, immoderate use of the Internet, excessive amounts of television watching… ” (USCCB, “Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence”.) By fasting and self-denial, we acquire or grow in the virtues of temperance, moderation, self-control, self-discipline, chastity, the restraining of appetites, and so on. Those virtues enable us to become freer so as to fully devote ourselves to God, our families, and our friends. As a result, our family and friendship bonds become stronger.
The third pillar of Lent is almsgiving. Jesus was always concerned about those who were poor and in need. To be a disciple of Christ also involves the call to be in solidarity with the least fortunate of our brothers and sisters. It means “to live a life of charity…a life of stewardship, generously giving of our time, talent, and treasure.” (Ibid) During Lent, we are asked to focus more intently on “almsgiving,” which means donating money or goods to the poor and performing other acts of charity. Almsgiving is “a witness to fraternal charity” and “a work of justice pleasing to God.” (Cf. CCC, 2462.)
Brothers and sisters, in the words of Pope Francis, “let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus…. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.”
— reflection by Fr Robain Lamba