By Fr. Rich, O.P.
As Lent loomed on the horizon, Theresa, our communications and technology coordinator, reminded me that I had a column to write. After some thoughtful consideration, I submitted a column that I had written before. It centered on the idea that we should be intentional and think about being more engaged through prayer and study during the season. She reminded me that I had used that column before and perhaps I would like to write a new one (very heavy sigh).
As a result, I’ve joined with my fellow Catholics as they consider how to more fully enter into this season. Here we are.
The themes don’t change; the readings for Ash Wednesday are the same. The prophet Joel, challenges us: “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting … Blow the trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly!” Paul reminds us that when it comes to praising God and serving Him: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time.” We hear in Matthew, as we do every year, to pray, to fast, and to give alms so that the Father knows, not the whole world.
When I was younger, fasting from something was preordained; it usually involved staying away from sweets, skipping a meal during the day, or occasionally not watching a TV show. NB. No internet in my youth to fast from. We participated in Stations of the Cross with my school each Friday, and, of course, the ever popular, “Fish on Friday.” Here’s a confession: I like fish, so it didn’t feel particularly penitential. And the world turns, and turns.
While the emphasis remains on the practices of fasting, prayer, and “alms” giving, what they look like has changed considerably. And therein lies our challenge.
Fasting has morphed into a process whereby we abstain from social media, watching our favorite shows, or engaging in another favorite pastime, video games. It requires a discipline that requires an attentiveness; sometimes we break a fast before we even know we’ve done it because they are habits that we engage in on autopilot.
What does our prayer life look like now? Do I really have time to add one more thing to my schedule? The opportunity for time before the Blessed Sacrament is available at all three of our parishes; check it out. Weekday Masses are offered morning, noon, and evenings; check it out. Getting together with friends and chatting about Scripture serves a dual role of sharing the Gospel and spending time with our friends. The Rosary is an individual prayer opportunity that requires practically no equipment and very little space; it translates to any time, any place. Did I mention that all three of our parishes offer penance services throughout Lent?
“Almsgiving” can be an opportunity to combine fasting with a sharing of our treasure. If we are abstaining from a form of entertainment or activity that we spend money on, we can re-direct those funds to the Food Bank, homeless shelters, or Catholic Relief Fund. If we are overwhelmed by requests for support, focus on one, do some research, and decide whether to support the organization or not.
Lent calls us to stop and decide how our faith life can become deeper and how our prayer life can be fuller, richer, and more frequent. It is a time for us to acknowledge the role that our faith community plays in our lives or, even, whether it plays a role at all. Lent calls us to prepare our hearts and minds to be present and involved in commemorating the events beginning with the upper room and ending with an empty tomb. Join Jesus in the desert this year.