Every year, we begin Lent with the same Gospel reading: Jesus warning us not to be hypocritical about almsgiving, prayer and fasting (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21). However, Jesus’ main focus is for us to look at our motives in these important practices of Lent which actually represent three important relationships in our lives and to see them once again as gifts – our relationships with God, our neighbour and ourselves.
Our Faith is not only knowing about God, it is more about knowing God – one-on-one in a personal relationship and Jesus’ teachings help us to get to know God better; it’s not only about liking or agreeing with Jesus, it’s more about following Jesus in His love for the Father and all people.
To grow in a relationship with anybody, we need to put time in the relationship – it’s hard to grow closer to anybody if we don’t spend any time with them. The same in our relationship with God – we need to give time over to God for prayer – and we can make use of many gifts that God has already given us to come closer to Him: the Bible, the Sacraments, Jesus’ Real Presence in the Tabernacle.
God is everywhere and so anytime and anyplace can be an opportunity for prayer – to talk with God whether using a set method or our own words: the goal is to give not only time but quality time to God and to grow deeper in our personal relationship with God – our Faith.
In his Message for Lent this year, Pope Francis gave us a reflection on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). It’s a parable, Pope Francis tells us, that teaches us that our neighbour is a gift and not a nuisance – they are a call for us to make changes in our lives for the better. It’s a parable that challenges us to open our hearts to others who are in need: to see them as gifts, the face of Christ and so be challenged to recognise their value.
Pope Francis also spoke of how the Rich Man, in not making use of his resources in order to do good for others, let personal wealth take over his life to the extent that he became greedy, self-centered and vain.
Lent is a time for opening our hearts to the needs of others whether it be through making donations to Project Compassion, St Vincent de Paul or other charities. Our neighbour is not only someone in a distant place but also much closer to home and so Lent is a great time for us to do acts of kindness, generosity and service to show their personal worth, value and dignity.
If there is one practice that most people think of in connection to Lent, it is the practice of “giving up something for Lent” aka Fasting. There’s always the traditional giving up of treats, drinks and forms of entertainment and others try to be creative as well but, hopefully, whatever we decide to give up for Lent helps us to understand ourselves more: our weaknesses as well as our strengths.
Lent is a time to grow in discipline but it’s also a time to learn about ourselves and God. At the end of Lent we might surprise ourselves if we are able to keep our disciplines and, if we’re not able to, Lent can be a time to train us to find hope in God’ grace which can give us the encouragement and strength to keep going and not be disheartened by our weaknesses but, rather, have hope that (with God’s help) we can overcome our weaknesses.
Fasting means that we free up money, time or energy so that we can give more to others and also to God and that is how our fasting can become worthwhile.
St Peter Chrysologus, writing in the fifth century, said that prayer, almsgiving and fasting are all connected because they give life to each other. We don’t get the most out of each practice unless we are practicing all three so Lent is not only about “giving up something” but also giving more time for prayer and ourselves to works of charity and mercy so hopefully we can practice something of each and get the most out of Lent this year.
written by Fr Brennan Sia CYM Chaplain