Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
As we continue on our journey in this Season of Lent let us reflect upon the meaning of Lent. Lent is the annual preparation for Easter observance calling us to reform our lives and to open our hearts to the spiritual blessings God has promised to bestow on us. Lent begins Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday evening when the Triduum begins.
According to the Church’s Canon Law, all healthy Catholics from age 18-59 are required to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and to abstain from meat on all other Fridays of lent. Youth 14 and older are also to abstain from meat on those days. “Fasting” means that no more than one main meal is eaten daily, while in the same day no more than two partial meals are eaten which together don’t equal the one main meal.
Each of us should take the necessary steps to get ourselves on the road to conversion and spiritual renewal. To help us do this, the three main Lenten disciplines urged are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We are invited during Lent to practice these disciplines often. But these aren’t just chores we must do because the Church strongly urges them; they are above all opportunities to grow in faith and in love for God.
The Lenten basic practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are rooted in Jesus’ original guidance about how to be his disciples that we find in the Sermon on the Mount. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1966-1972) also reminds us that Jesus here outlines for us the new law which, if we embrace and implement it, will lead us more surely to the interior renewal and growth in holiness and perfection that Jesus expects of us as his disciples.
Fasting expresses our desire to find happiness in god rather than in the satisfaction of our physical needs. The control we gain over our appetites helps us recognize more deeply that all true and lasting pleasure comes from God. Knowing this we are freed to gratefully accept food and savor it, or to avoid or limit foods that we know are unhealthy for us. Through fasting, our relationship to ourselves is reoriented toward God.
Almsgiving provides assistance to the poor among us and helps us recognize god as the true source of our security. Property and wealth exercise less control over us when we give away or share our wealth out of love for God and for others. Almsgiving is a way of bringing our relationship to others into the orbit of Christ’ love.
Prayer changes our relationship to God. Through prayer, we admit our need for a power that is greater than ourselves. We acknowledge our limitations and let go of the drive to control everything. In the process, we open ourselves to all that God has to offer us.
Let us never forget the ashes we placed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. They remind us that we are sinners. When we come forward to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, we are saying that we are sorry for our sins, and that we want to use the season of Lent to correct our faults, purify our hearts, control our desires and grow in holiness so we will be prepared to celebrate Easter with great joy.
Let us live this way every day and may our Lenten Season be one that brings us closer to God and to one another.