The readings from Ash Wednesday set the tone for Lent each year. The Gospel writer Matthew invites us to reflect deeply on three things: giving alms, fasting and prayer (Matt. 6: 1-6, 16-18). When I was growing up the focus of Lent was on “giving up” something like candy, sweets, desserts, even smoking or drinking went on sabbatical for adults during the forty days of Lent. But as soon as Lent was over, we went back to eating our favorite desserts, buying the tempting candy bar, and enjoying a smoke or drinking our favorite beverage.
I believe Lent offers us a more significant challenge in considering this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, part of the Beatitudes, to examine our lifestyles. First, we are to be generous to the poor, giving from our substance to those who are in need. Fortunately there are many agencies today, many non-profits that support people in need with food, job-training, or assistance in finding shelter. We find out over and over again there are many people almost in our own backyards who depend on others for
their basic needs. We can choose to support one of these groups that work with the poor and offer our alms.
Second, we can pray regularly during Lent. We can simply be intentional by praying before we share a meal. You can pray privately in your room or come to weekday Mass at 8:15 am or whenever and wherever it is possible for you to attend Mass. There are the Stations of the Cross on Friday evenings during Lent, other Friday night Lenten devotions e.g. Taize prayer and Adoration. We are offering the book “Rediscover Jesus” by Matthew Kelly, a personal forty episode, five minute a day opportunity for reading, reflection and prayer. When and where is the prayer time in my life? Do I pray in the morning or the evening? Prayer is the grounding point of our faith life.
Third, the Gospel passage from Matthew invites us to fast, not just observing the regulation of the church, to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat on Fridays, but to fast from angry words, fast from being impatient, fast from television for an hour a day, fast from computer games or surfing the internet. Then, we can feast on offering compliments, feast on a renewed level of patience, and feast on time well spent with family members. Lent is a time for transformation, allowing
our inner being to find peace. “And our heavenly Father who sees what is hidden will repay you” says Matthew’s Gospel. Lent is a great time for spiritual renewal, for taking time out of busy schedules and appreciating God’s many blessings. We could literally make Lent a personal retreat for forty days. Happy Lent!!