As we begin Lent, I am of course reminded of the three tenants of the Lenten season: fasting, prayer and almsgiving/service. Although these three practices are in many ways distinct, they are also, much like our awesome God, one in the same. Each feeds into the other and loops back around to support itself in a long spaghetti noodle of holiness, and calls us to continually reach out to Christ’s open hand, calling us to walk with Him. Let us explore each of these tenants, as we begin this 40 day journey with our Lord.Fasting
Whether it’s not eating meat on a Friday or not eating meat for 40 days, fasting helps us find closeness with God and humanity. Not only are we imitating Christ’s fast those 40 days in the desert, we are enkindling ourselves to the number of our fellow humans throughout the world who regularly go hungry. Many Churches promote Operation Rice Bowl, a service provided by Catholic Relief Services that encourages us to give up the money we save through fasting to help those in need of proper nutrition. Fasting calls us to serve.
Fasting is not meant as a means of self-punishment or to cause pain or anguish, but to connect us with a higher form of nourishment: God. Many times, in order to stay true to our fasting, we must call on God for strength and to help us find meaning in our struggles with sin and temptation. Fasting calls us to pray.
Prayer is an essential part of our lives as Christians, but especially important as we are wrapped in the call to renewal found in the Lenten season. Our prayers can come in many forms. We offer prayers for forgiveness, strength, thanksgiving, patience, understanding; all things we need during lent as we prepare ourselves for Christ’s return. And in order to have earnest prayers, we often need to take away distractions from God. Distractions like Facebook, TV, video games, texting – all things many people fast from during Lent. Prayer calls us to fast.
In addition to fasting from things that may distract us, we also need to partake in activities that inspire us in order to enjoy a beautiful prayer life. The greatest inspiration of all is found through positively impacting the life of our fellow members of the Body of Christ. This can be done through a smile, kind word, song, home cooked meal or any number of ways we can look beyond ourselves to another. Prayer calls us to serve.
As we saw, almsgiving and service can take many forms, from the most obvious of putting money in the offering basket to the most obscure like buying someone a giant pack of colorful Sharpies (a real life example from a self-proclaimed Sharpie lover). When we serve, we think of the other rather than ourselves, which requires a degree of sacrifice. Service stems from us giving up something (time, money, energy) for someone else. Service calls us to fast.
There are many individuals I know with a true servant’s heart, always looking for ways to help their sisters and brothers in Christ. This service is most evident in the SPO Households as I have on many occasions witnessed students humbly offering a helping hand, listening ear or warm embrace to their peers in need. It should be no surprise the SPO students are so willing to serve as spend time daily in conversation with our Lord. It is through this deep connection with God that their hearts cannot help but be inclined to serve, and they rely on this prayer to gain the strength and vision necessary to live on mission as God’s servant. Service calls us to pray.
….and so the long spaghetti noodle of holiness goes on, wrapping in on itself and through itself as we fast, pray and serve throughout Lent, and throughout our lives. May we all enjoy a fruitful, transformative experience during this Lenten season as we continually run forward into the arms of our loving God. Amen!