Give, pray, fast
Begin with the Gospel for Ash Wednesday. Nothing offers better guidance on our Lenten journey than the words Jesus spoke to his disciples: “Give alms … Pray to your Father … Fast.”
“Pray to your Father.” Lent 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 in secret.”
Prayer is our conversation with God. It is through prayer that we develop a closer, more intimate relationship with God. 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 or the psalms. Also, the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office or Breviary, is a form of prayer used by priests, deacons, nuns and some lay people to mark the rhythms of each day. Morning prayer, daytime prayer, evening prayer and night prayer keep us and our activities connected to God during the different times of day.
Before you pray, enter the inner room of your heart. Shut the door to the noise, the distractions, the countless cares battling for attention. Put them aside. In the quiet place of your heart, with faith as your guide, speak to your God. Open your heart so that you may connect with God.
“When you fast do not look gloomy,” Jesus says. The prophet Isaiah insists that fasting without changing our behavior is not pleasing to God. Therefore, the goal of fasting is linked with prayer. The pangs of hunger remind us of our hunger for God, and prayer and fasting together brings us to what Lent is about – a deeper conversion. This Lent, let us try, with God’s help, to move closer to God’s sacrifice for us. Some reasonable abstaining from food, drink and entertainments can help us do that.
Almsgiving is simply a response by us to God, a response that we have come to through prayer and fasting. It is an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given us, and a realization that in the Body of Christ, it is never just "me and God." Giving alms, means making the needs of others a priority, especially the needy of our communities. And what shall we give? Some time, some of our talent, material resources, perhaps. We all have something to give.
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 in return.
What shall we give to those in need this lent? In deciding, decide generously. After all, Jesus gave: “He loved us, and gave himself up for us.”
Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving during this Lenten season, with God’s grace we can overcome our self-centeredness and become more focused on God’s plan, leading us further on the path to holiness.
Father Jamie Baca, CSP, is the associate director of the University Catholic Center of the University of Texas at Austin.