Spring is coming. The unusually beautiful weather that we’ve enjoyed is an early promise of the new life of spring. This promise of new life is also reflected in the season of Lent which began last Wednesday. Far from being a time of dour guilt, these 40 days are a fresh opportunity for us to renew our relationship with God and one another. This Lenten Spring began with ashes. The imposition of ashes both reminds us who we are and who we are meant to be. First, who we are:“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This sober reminder gives us the right perspective for renewal. Our life is a gift from God and we can only truly live when we connect with the source of life. Christ himself says,“without me, you can do nothing.”(John 15:5). Second, the imposition of ashes helps us to reflect on who we are called to be:“Repent and believe in the Gospel.”(Mark 1:12-15) These words which we hear this weekend are the very words we heard when we received ashes. They are a call to be transformed by the Good News of God’s kingdom, his presence in our lives. There is no ash without fire. Each of us has the divine spark of God’s life and yet, how quickly does that fire cool and fade. Recently, after celebrating a Funeral Mass, I extinguished the Paschal Candle and began to carry it back to the sacristy. Perhaps my gait was a bit brisk, because as I entered the sacristy the candle burst back into flame. Evidently, there had been a small ember alit in the extinguished wick and all it needed was a gentle (if accidental!) fanning to ignite. This is the goal of Lent, to rekindle the flame of God’s living presence in our lives.
Prayer is the oxygen of our spiritual life; the fire of God’s love does not exist without it. There is nothing magical about. Prayer is simply talking to God and then quieting ourselves to listen for His response. Though it may seem easy to do in theory, there are few things more difficult than to take time each day for quiet communion with our creator. From the time we wake up until the moment of evening retirement, our days are bursting with activity and bustle. Through it all, God is trying to speak to us. But we cannot hear his voice without taking regular time each day to sit down, quiet our mind and embrace the silence. Lent calls us in a practical way to carve out moments for prayer, to join the community in worship and to enter into the silence where God speaks to our heart. This year, we are offering Lenten books authored by Fr. Robert Barron as an easy, useful aid in forming a prayer habit. We have plenty of copies, so take as many as needed and give them to friends.
Fasting is the act of giving up something in order to develop spiritual discipline. In fact, fasting is so ingrained in the Catholic psyche that Lent has almost become synonymous with it. One main meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Meatless Fridays, no sweets or chocolates: such are traditional fasting practices. But fasting is not an end in itself, but a means by which to increase our desires beyond our own. The discipline of fasting stretches and expands our hearts to receive the graces that go beyond our surface selfish desires, like food and drink. Consider the time and energy we commit each day to TV, the Internet, and social media. For example, instead of playing Words with Friends, we might take time to pray with words from Scripture.
Almsgiving is the culmination of Lenten disciplines, for through it we open ourselves up to God’s grace. Just as fasting is about “giving up self,” almsgiving is about “giving of self.” Whereas fasting is about saying no to ourselves, almsgiving is about saying yes to others. Almsgiving most directly applies to giving financial and other material support to those in need, but it can also apply to those spiritual sorts of need. For instance, when I asked our elementary children to give an example of almsgiving, someone offered: “I could be kind and share with someone at school who never shares with me.” What if in the next six weeks, you chose a family member, a coworker or even a stranger to whom you went out of your way to show some act of kindness. It can be as simple as giving a hug, helping with chores, or saying thank you! Through the prayer, fasting and almsgiving of these next 40 days, we anticipate that our hearts will be set aflame with the presence of the Risen Christ.
~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.