Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am away this weekend on a fact-finding mission to examine the palms we will use for Passion Sunday at the end of Lent. It is hard work, but someone has to do it. In my absence, I know that you are well cared for by Fr. Tim and our parish staff!
Though we still have a few weeks, I would like to plant a seed in your minds and hearts regarding the great and holy season of Lent. During these forty days, the Church invites us to a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, spiritual tools meant to help us prepare for the Paschal mystery of our faith. There can often be an overemphasis on fasting—what are you giving up?—that leads to the neglect of prayer and almsgiving. At the same time, in recent years, there is a tendency to say things like “You can give something up or you can do something.” But the Church’s wisdom handed down through the centuries has never suggested that the Lenten discipline is an “or” proposition. On the contrary, it is all about and. A successful Lenten season is built on the strong foundation of all three disciplines—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
It is easy enough to come up with a sacrifice of food or drink that we will undertake. It can be much harder to think through ways we can give alms, serve the poor, or engage in regular works of charity. Likewise, it can be challenging to increase our prayer…we start a devotion or prayer practice, but then schedules get in the way, we forget, and soon we have unintentionally given up the commitment to deeper prayer. Still, the Church proposes all three as pillars of a healthy and fruitful Lenten season.
As we prepare for Lent, then, I would like to suggest a few things. First, let us remove “or” from our Lenten preparations. Instead, let us embrace “and,” aware that prayer, fasting, and almsgiving all contribute to the fruitfulness of the season. Second, don’t worry about failing. The whole purpose of the Lenten disciplines is to help us practice and get better. When practicing, we are bound to fail, but that’s the whole point…failure teaches us how to succeed, how to learn from our mistakes, how to do better next time. Third, even though we can’t worry about failing in the Lenten discipline, we can make plans. Ash Wednesday is March 6, meaning we have about two weeks to carefully consider how we will live out the holy season of Lent, two weeks in which we can examine our own hearts and consciences, two weeks in which to lay out a spiritual road map for the forty days of Lent. Reflect on the ways in which you need to grow in your relationship with God, virtues you need to shore up. Invite the Holy Spirit to enlighten you, to help you hear the voice of God, to listen for the ways Jesus is asking you to follow Him and grow in holiness.