The Spirit of Lent
by Victor Hoagland, C.P.
Begin with the
gospel for Ash Wednesday. Nothing offers better guidance on our lenten
journey than the words Jesus spoke to his disciples, read during the
liturgy of this day:
alms...Pray to your Father...Fast without a gloomy face...” (Matthew
Give... pray... fast.
Giving alms, Jesus
teaches, means making the needs of others our own, especially the needy
of our world. They are all around us: children and the old, the sick
and the suffering, families and individuals, next-door neighbors and
people in lands faraway.
We easily forget
them. Rather than just looking out for ourselves — what people say today — see those in need, Jesus says. Giving will make you live.
And what shall
we give? Some time, some of our talent, material resources, perhaps.
Almsgiving is not just for the rich. Poor or rich, we all have something
Whatever we give,
though, should be something of ourselves, something that costs us. Paradoxically,
Jesus also teaches, when we give, we receive some blessing from God
What shall we
give to the needy this lent? In deciding, decide generously. After all,
before us is the great alms Jesus gave: “He loved us, and gave himself
up for us.”
“Pray to your
The Lenten season
calls us to pray. But prayer, Jesus teaches, is much more than saying
words. “Go into your room, and close the door, and pray to your Father
Before you pray,
enter the inner room of your heart. Shut the door to the noise, the
trivialities, the countless cares grabbing for attention. Put them aside.
In the quiet place of your heart, with faith as your guide, speak to
your God. A gracious Father listens, and he knows what you need.
God helps us pray
in this season. For those who have stopped praying, or pray with little
fervor, God gives graces for praying again. Usually the graces come
as we turn to prayers and practices already there: reflective reading
of the Bible or other spiritual books, the Eucharist and the other sacraments,
simple grace-filled prayers, like the Our Father
or the psalms.
“What a Christian
should be doing at all times should be done now with greater care and
devotion,” Pope St. Leo told Christians of the 6th century beginning
their Lenten observance. What can we do this season to pray with greater
care and devotion? Participate in some church services? Read the bible
or a spiritual book some minutes each day? Put aside some time for quiet
“When you fast
do not look gloomy,” Jesus says. Today’s consumer society looks on fasting
itself as gloomy. Urging everyone to eat, drink, and buy more and more,
our world today has made fasting unfashionable.
Yet the gospel
message says more and more can ruin human life. An acquisitive spirit
is a selfish spirit. And as the alarming numbers of people addicted
to drugs and alcohol today prove, the taste for too much can destroy.
Food and drink,
clothes and amusements — the good things of life — can turn into your
captors, Jesus teaches. In our acquisitive, pleasure-oriented society,
fasting is a way of keeping ourselves free.
This Lent, recognizing
the hold things have on us , let us try, with God’s help, to keep them
in their right place. Some reasonable abstaining from food, drink and
entertainments can help us do that.
Indeed today we
have new compelling reasons for taking fasting seriously. As the resources
of our planet are increasingly threatened, it becomes clear that the
human family, especially those living in affluent nations, can no longer
be unlimited consumers. We must develop a leaner, less wasteful way
of life, if our planet is to survive.
Can the Christian
teaching on fasting lead us to a gentler
style of living on planet earth?