“Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us.” - Pope Francis
Recently, I read that the Bishop of Swaziland, Ellinah Wamukoya, is inviting people to take part in a "carbon fast" during Lent—to examine their daily actions and reflect on how they impact the environment: "We are of the earth, we are dust, if the earth birthed us so let us look after her, and reduce our carbon foot print to ensure continued life" he said. Another parish encouraged its parishioners to give up salt for Lent, except when it is necessary in a recipe. “We are the salt of the earth…” We reflect on our need for salt today and how we are salt for the earth. Other parishes suggest giving up social media for Lent. Refrain from using social media in order to fill our time with prayer and action for the sake of all those who are suffering in our world. Still others encourage giving up chocolate or a favorite food or dessert. All of these things that we choose to give up during Lent, if not accompanied by prayer, compassion for our brothers and sisters, and action on behalf of them, are meaningless.
Maybe you are a person that doesn’t give any time to prayer or maybe you spend much time praying. Whatever your particular situation, prayer during Lent draws us closer to the Lord. You might pray especially for the grace to live out your baptismal promises more fully, since Lent in the early church was a preparation time for baptism. Praying for our leaders and for peace in our world is a needed practice, especially during Lent. You might also pray for those in our community who are preparing for baptism, confirmation and Eucharist at Easter. Be sure to take a card or two from the baskets at the doors of the church and pray for those individuals and write them a card offering encouragement and prayer. Prayer places all of this before the God of mercy and justice who makes it bear fruit. The Gospel readings used during Lent make clear that this discipline is to be authentic, the product of broken hearts and not external display.
Fasting is one of the most ancient practices linked to Lent. In fact, the paschal fast predates Lent as we know it. Fasting is more than a means of developing self control. It is often an aid to prayer, as the pangs of hunger remind us of our hunger for God. Fasting should be linked to our concern for those who are forced to fast by their poverty, those who suffer from the injustices of our economic and political structures, those who are in need for any reason. Thus fasting, too, is linked to living out our baptismal promises. By our Baptism, we are charged with the responsibility of showing Christ's love to the world, especially to those in need. Fasting can help us realize the suffering that so many people in our world experience every day, and it should lead us to greater efforts to alleviate that suffering. Fasting puts us in touch with our hunger for God and in justice frees resources to share with others. This sharing shows to the world the same charity and justice God has first shown us.
It should be obvious at this point that almsgiving is linked to our baptismal commitment in the same way. It is a sign of our care for those in need and an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given to us. Works of charity and the promotion of justice are essential elements of our way of life we began when we were baptized.
As our Pope Francis says to beautifully, “Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.”