This article is definitely for the Jesus folk. I geek out hard on how much I love Lent. I ramble about what I am learning during this season of sacrifice and repentance. And I share my hope of how I can accomplish all that needs renewing in my life.
Ever since I was young, I have always had a very strong connection with Lent. I love the idea of uniting myself in some distant way to Christ’s 40 days in the desert. In past years, what to give up has always been pretty clear. A stroll down memory lane had me reflecting on what indulgences I had given up in the past. Alcohol, social media, shopping, and other such habits. If you aren’t quite as pumped on Lent as I am, bite the bullet and read on anyhow. You may learn something new. First, some background information on the components that make up this beautiful time!
I read an incredible article by Mike Aquilina and The Catholic Education Resource Center about the three distinguishing marks of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Prayer is defined in two ways, the raising of the heart and mind to God or conversation with God. “Prayer first means God is speaking to us and not the other way around,” says Father Kenneth Myers, a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. “That requires silence — the art of listening carefully to the Lord. And the best place to do that is in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament requires real effort and commitment, but even when our hearts are dry and it seems fruitless to keep on praying, being before the Eucharistic Lord is like being in the sunlight — even by doing nothing we still absorb those powerful rays of light.”
One major partner in prayer is fasting. I once heard a story of a businessman who was asked why he fasts, he said, “It’s medicine for my biggest problem – selfishness and lack of self-control.” I would say that response sums up the fruit of fasting. Biblical Fasting is “not eating” with spiritual communication in mind. Fasting in the bible is always paired with prayer. You can obviously pray without fasting, but biblically you don’t see fasting without prayer.
The final component of the Lenten three-part chord is almsgiving. Alms are money or goods given to those in need as an act of charity. The word alms is used many times in the King James Version of the Bible. It comes from the Old English word ælmesse and ultimately from a Greek word meaning “pity, mercy.” In its original sense, when you give alms, you are dispensing mercy. I love that phrase, dispensing mercy. It illustrates an all-encompassing abundance of grace. Almsgiving is not specific to finances, but can be in time spent with others or putting another’s needs before yours.
To be quite real, this lenten season has not been my best in terms of discipline. I have fallen short on a few of the practices I wanted to include in my daily routine. However, I am determined to not get stuck on my shortcomings, but really basque in what God has to teach me. I am determined to take time to truly repent for things that God is showing me about my character. Some seasons are silent and confusing, unsure of what God is doing. In other seasons, the message is loud and clear and shows up everywhere you turn. That would be this current Lent. Loud and clear, mercy and compassion are everywhere. Or should I say, God is revealing that I need to be more merciful and compassionate.
Something I heard last Sunday at mass has had my mind going somewhat crazy (in a good way). The priest made a simple statement that got me thinking about how I represent the Church. He said, the church is meant to be the face of mercy and compassion to the world. Heard it all before? I know, I know. Those two words are so loaded though! I must be honest, mercy and compassion are not always easy for me. Especially when dealing with my ex-husband and his girlfriend (the other woman). Showing concern and forgiveness to people you’ve deemed undeserving is far from natural. If you’ve read, Forgiveness Matters, you know I talk a big forgiveness game. However, it’s still a decision. I am hoping in years to come it won’t be such a frequent and conscious one.
Below is one of the reflections from Matthew Kelly’s Best Lent Ever program:
Focus: When was the last time you had the courage to seek out the root of an important issue?
Act: Identify a problem in your life. Take it to prayer, and have the courage to get to the root of it.
Pray: Jesus, point me toward the root of things, and give me an extra nudge when I am tempted to settle for the shallow and the superficial.
Oh man. The shallow and superficial. I settle for this in how I treat others. Instead of mercy and compassion, I find myself forgiving in the bare minimum sense. When you’ve experienced infidelity, some days the bare minimum forgiveness feels like way more than you can handle. However, God’s desire is that we extend an arm of mercy and compassion with no limitations. This Lent I am praying hard for not an extra nudge, but a huge push. I am praying that God will reveal what mercy and compassion look like to those who are hardest to love. As with everything, it’s a process, but I am praying that God brings all of us to new levels of mercy and compassion, during this season especially. My prayer for this community is that God will equip us all with the supernatural grace for people who have deeply wronged us. Let us not put limits on who God extends His love to.
Image by Blessed Is She