Fast, pray, give, and let God do the rest
|Your donation to Project Compassion will help people like Audrey from Djarindjin, a remote community 200km north of Broome. To prevent diseases like diabetes and improve healthcare in vulnerable communities, Caritas Australia and the Unity of First People of Australia run a community-owned Diabetes Management and Care Program in Djarindjin and eight other remote communities across the Kimberley.|
From Bishop Anthony Fisher OP, Catholic Outlook, March 2012
When you hear the word ‘Lent’ what comes to mind? Giving up chocolates or alcohol or texting for 40 days? When I was a child Lent was a time when you gave up what you liked best and if you ordered a meat pie from the school tuckshop on Friday, you received an egg sandwich and a lecture!
Lent in those days was an exciting time. There was something heroic about vowing to give up things as important as chocolate, even if it was only for a few weeks. And there were meatless Fridays and only one real meal on certain days. You got to look and feel grave, even dismal, to match the black and purple that covered the statues and the priests in that season. My views of Lent have matured somewhat since then, but such childhood experiences are very formative.
Now, of course, I know a bit more about the history and spirituality of Lenten discipline. I know, for instance, that Lent was from early times a special time of intense preparation for those getting ready to be baptised at Easter. They made a retreat for 40 days, imitating Jesus’ retreat in the desert.
From the 3rd Century they were also joined by those who had committed notorious sins and were called to public penance. These penitents were reconciled with the Church in Holy Week. Desert hermits, monks and nuns, also engaged in asceticism of various kinds in the lead-up to Easter.
Why the self-denial? Sin, we know, damages us, our relationship with our neighbours and our relationship with God. Conversion and penance are about being turned upside down, inside-outed, spun around, away from sin and the harm it does and towards a more healthy lifestyle. Lent proposes three very helpful techniques for this.
One is fasting. We inherited this practice from the Jews and share it with the Muslims and others. It is said to have many benefits: schooling the passions, reducing lust, resisting the devil, teaching temperance, helping appreciate more what we normally have.
More recently, people fast for peace, to identify with the hungry, to take a stand against consumerism, to cleanse themselves of toxins or merely to lose weight. One way or another, fasting seems to help us get a handle on ourselves; to acknowledge our self-indulgence, our over-indulgence, our obsession with our own comfort; to confess that this diminishes us; and to co-operate with God in His project of healing our hearts. Fasting is good for our relationship with ourselves.
Almsgiving – that is, charitable giving to the poor such as Project Compassion – is another practice we share with all the world’s great religions. By giving we assist others in need; but we also try to restore a right relationship between ourselves and others. We try to face up to our selfishness, our unwillingness to share; we acknowledge the injustice and uncharity of a world in which so many starve or are otherwise neglected; we try by engaging in a little generosity to relate better to people. Almsgiving is good for our relationship with others.
Prayer is the third Lenten strategy. Of course, like the other two, it is an all-year-round practice. But in Lent Catholics try to do a bit extra: they make a good Confession, pray the Stations of the Cross, go to Mass on Fridays, or attend as much as possible of the Triduum ceremonies of Holy Thursday night, Good Friday afternoon and the Easter Vigil.
By prayer we try to face up to our neglect of the spiritual element in our lives, our unwillingness to share our time and space, our minds and wills with God; we acknowledge our spiritual lukewarmness, the practical agnosticism of so much of daily life; and we try to communicate better with the One who most loves us and wants to heal us. Prayer is good for our relationship with God.
Three broken relationships – with our God, our neighbours and ourselves – and three Lenten remedies. This is not self-medicating, mind you: Christ prescribes these medicines for our souls.I invite you, as I did last Lent, to approach the wonderful sacrament of confession, absolution, reconciliation and penance. This Lent I ask you also to avail yourself of the other cures that Lent provides. Give Christ, the physician of bodies and souls, a chance. Let the Church, the pharmacy for the soul, dispense what you need. Fast, pray, give, and let God do the rest.