Return to me with your whole heart says the Lord with fasting, and weeping, and mourning. Joel 2:12
Each year the church gives us a great opportunity to stop awhile for 40 days. Lent is the time to look around ourselves and review our relationship with the Lord through penance-reconciliation, forgiveness, and repentance. The Lenten season focuses us on three main Pillars: PRAYER, ALMSGIVING, and FASTING.
These three pillars connect together to prepare our hearts for Easter Sunday. Sometimes we, as Christians observe Lenten practices because the Church asks us to do this or because of the Tradition in our church. But in reality, why are we fasting, praying, and almsgiving?
When we are in the posture of prayer, we look to discover who we really are, as persons, as followers of Christ, and as individuals who live among others in a particular place. Therefore, we are not alone in the battle of every day in life. In times of silence, meditation and contemplation, if we listen to God in the silence of our hearts, we will understand as human beings we need help, we need the support of others. The power of prayer helps us to reflect on our existence. This is what Lent allows us to do, to stop and to turn around, to see what we need to change and how we need to do it. Prayer gives us the humility to recognize the power of God at work in our life.
Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, in his book Jesus of Nazareth writes: “prayer is a way of gradually purifying and correcting our wishes and of slowly coming to realize what we really need: God and His Spirit.” The season of Lent helps me review my relationship with God and to look at what I am asking of him in prayer? Do I really need what I am asking? Do I humble myself in the presence of God, recognizing my position as a child of God? The prayer of the Our Father, found in the Gospel of Matthew, teaches us how to pray. (Mathew: 6,7-15). When I allow myself to listen to God and be obedient to what God asks of me, I don’t manipulate God by asking him to grant my desires according to my own personal benefit or interest, but according to his will. In other words, we put God first and we let Him guide our Lenten journey.
As people of prayer, if we really let our prayers transform our hearts, we will easily come to understand that others need our help. We are called to share so many gifts that we receive from the Lord. Most of the time we claim that we don’t have anything to share. We usually share material wealth with others — money, food, clothes, and so on. For example, we look to those who dedicate themselves to giving support to St Vincent de Paul. This type of support is great and a very good way of responding to our brothers and sisters who are in need. At the same time, we could do more because God has blessed us in so many ways in our lives. Therefore. we, as Christians are called to do more and more to make life better for others.
Besides sharing wealth, we have many other ways to share: give a smile, give some time to those who are in need of someone to listen, visit those who are in hospital, in prison, ask a neighbor how was your night, bless someone that you meet in your ways, say “God loves you,” give hope to someone who is without hope, especially in this time where most of us are living under stress, under confusion. Pope Francis in the encyclical Fratelli Tutti writes: “I invite everyone to renewed hope, for hope “speaks to us of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfillment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our hearts and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness and beauty, justice, and love… Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities, and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile.” (Fratelli Tutti number 55). Visit someone who lost a family member, pray for those who are in crisis. Brothers and sisters, we have so much to share in this time of Lent. We are a fraternity called to live with one another as brothers and sisters, supporting one another in moments of difficulty. Again, in this time of Covid or post-Covid depending on how you want to call it, the most important thing is to be a community of support, of love, of forgiveness, of sharing. Lenten almsgiving is a way to build the Christian fraternity.
Finally, Lenten fasting is something we usually voluntarily decide to do on some days through the year. We stop eating some meals that we really like or stop doing some hobbies. However, during these forty days, the church invites each one of her faithful to enter into a deeper fasting, to have a more profound sense of what fasting means, to reflect on why we fast? For example, on Ash Wednesday 2022, Pope Francis asked us to fast for peace in the world. When fasting, we have a great opportunity to reflect on this marvelous season in the church, to return as children of God, brothers, and sisters in Christ. I have a chance to see what I can bring to the society, to discover missing work that needs to be done. I can renew myself in the Lord through the sacrament of reconciliation and decide to accept my Christian responsibility and go forward.
Thus, our fasting will be for peace, unity, love, forgiveness, sharing, less gossiping, less saying negative things against others, less cursing, more blessings. Therefore, we begin to build a community according to the will of God. Isaiah 58, 1-12 helps us understand what kind of fasting God wants from his people. In addition, we are called to be holy and we have the grace of Lent in returning to God with our whole heart through penance, repentance, and conversion and thus, we follow the way of Holiness.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, through these three pillars of Lent this year: PRAYER, ALMSGIVING, and FASTING, as baptized followers of Christ, good stewards of the Lord, let us build the kingdom of God in whatever way we can, huge, small, little things. Just let us do what we can do and do it well with responsivity. We need each other support in choosing to do GOOD, to LOVE over hate, to FORGIVE instead of staying angry, and advocating for PEACE over war and JUSTICE over injustice. Yes, we are humans with limitations, but those who chose to be with God will never be alone in his journey.
Happy and blessed Lent 2022.
Father Franckel Fils-Aime
St. Vincent de Paul Society
Naples District Council