Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the three ways that Jesus talks about our Lenten preparation in the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday. These three avenues to holiness are traditionally prescribed for all Catholics, especially during Lent. Here are some ways we can incorporate these disciplines into our daily life, and especially into our Lenten sacrifices.
When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
Jesus said these words in the context of religious professionals who would pray for human acclaim. They prayed not so much out of a sincerity of heart, but for the sole purpose of having other people see them pray. They thrived on knowing that others thought they were holy and spiritual.
For our Lenten prayer discipline, we would do well to establish a regular habit of prayer. Morning and evening are natural times for prayer. We can rise 15 minutes earlier and spend some time in prayer, or we can wait until our house has settled down and make some time at night. In either case, a simple formula for prayer could flow like this:
- Take some time to still your body, quiet your breathing, silence your voice, and turn your thoughts towards God. (1 minute)
- Thank God for at least three (3) minutes. See how many different people, situations and things you can think of to give thanks for. (3 minutes)
- Acknowledge your faults before God - spend some time confessing your sins, failures, mistakes and regrets, and ask for God’s forgiveness .(3 minutes)
- Bring your petitions before God - pray for your family and friends, for our nation, for our Church, and for anyone who has asked you for their prayers. (3 minutes)
- Read Scripture - if you’re not sure what to read, open up Mark’s Gospel in the New Testament and read 1 chapter each time you pray. In less then 3 weeks you’ll have read through one full Gospel. (3 minutes)
- Listen for God’s voice - after talking and reading, spend the remaining two minutes listening for the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. ( 2 minutes)
But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden.
Jesus spoke this in the context of people who would fast (not eat or drink) and then make a spectacle of it - they were, once again, looking for human praise. We can fast in secret by trying the following:
Food: We live in a country of such abundance that we sometimes forget that in other parts of our world (and in parts closer to home) some people go without food or live on very little food on a day to day basis. We can limit our intake of food and drink to remind ourselves of others, to stand in solidarity with them, and as a prayer for those who do not have enough to eat.
Electronics: We live in a world inundated with gadgets - cell phones, smart watches, mp3 players, laptops, computers, gigantic TV’s, etc. A challenging fast would be to go without non-essential electronics for a day, a week or all of Lent. It would help remind us that life is not always fast or convenient, and it would serve as a welcome antidote to the overloads of information and noise we sometimes try to process.
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret.
Most Catholic parishes will have stewardship drives where we are asked to contribute our “time, talent and treasure.” Lent is a wonderful time for us to make sacrifices of all three of those precious commodities. We can spend more time on family and less on work or individual pursuits; more money on charities and less on frivolous spending; and more talents in the service of the poor and homeless in our midst. It is a great way to expand our self-centeredness into other-centeredness.
In whatever way you mark this Lent, I pray that it draws you closer to the suffering Servant. May we all become imitators of this Servant Messiah in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Blessings & Peace,
Hugo De La Rosa III
Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” - Mark 13:33-37, abridged
Advent is a time to wait in joyful expectation for the coming of the newborn Son. Think of the first few weeks of falling in love with someone: you can’t wait to see them again, you yearn for the intimacy of their presence, you imagine what your time together will be like. This is what the season of Advent brings to us: time to anticipate the birth of Jesus.
The gospel reading for the first Sunday of Advent emphasizes this theme of yearning and anticipation. We are reminded that Jesus can come at any moment, and we are commanded to be on the lookout for his appearance.
But this is not just a one time “end-of-the-world” moment that we’re asked to watch for. We are challenged to be watchful for the unexpected encounters where we catch a glimpse of the presence of Jesus: a kind word from a stranger, a smile just when we need one, a word of encouragement when life is difficult, a hug from a child, a kiss from a spouse—in all of these moments of our life we are asked to look beyond the surface to the gentle, watchful presence of the Word made flesh.
May our Advent preparations help us clearly see the presence of God all around us, and may the celebration of the Christmas season find us prepared in body, mind, soul and spirit for the celebration of the birth of the Son.
Blessings & Peace,
Hugo De La Rosa III