Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lent: a Season for Fasting and Feasting, Praying and Almsgiving

By Sr. Mary Jo Chaves, OSF

As this time of Lent brings us to quiet reflection, we are drawn to what it is that needs our attention in our spiritual lives. Do we need to slow down? What do we need to fast from and feast on? Do we need to allow the Divine to create a clean heart in us? Do we need to give the alms of our time, energy and resources to those less fortunate than ourselves? If the Lenten season is meant to match the spring season of new life and growth, then our questions revolve around letting Lent be the spring time of our souls, through our fasting, praying and almsgiving. In that way, perhaps the seeds of new life in the core of our beings will sprout forth with new Easter life.

Let’s consider fasting and feasting. I believe that fasting as an end in itself has little meaning. I would propose that our fasting might be coupled with our feasting. If we fast from less nutritious food, then we feast on more nutritious food. If we fast from criticizing others then we feast on reaching out to others to understand their actions or thoughts. If we fast from working too much, then we feast on gifting ourselves with “slow down” time for reflection and good self-care. Fasting and feasting go hand in hand.

In considering Lenten prayer, I find it to be a wonderful season to go within and “pray in secret” as the scriptures for Ash Wednesday suggest. There are rich Lenten resources that assist us in this daily prayer practice. The scriptures for each day lead us through the season and bring us to Easter Sunday. These readings are invitations to enter the stories and find meaning in our own lives. Authors like Edward Hays, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen and others give us daily reflections. It is only for us to open our hearts and say “yes” to God at work in and through our prayer. Prayer is a relationship and that relationship grows as we invest our time and energy in it. I think our God is absolutely delighted when we stop to prayerfully listen to the still small voice within!

The third traditional Lenten practice is almsgiving. In these tight economic times many of us have no monetary resources to spare. Perhaps, the greatest “alms” we have to give is our time. It might be to gift those with whom we live with our presence and time to just be together. It might be to volunteer our services at an agency that serves those who are poor. It might be giving our best attention to our co-workers, our grocery clerks, our mail persons, those who serve us daily.

Paula D’Arcy, a noted speaker of our times, often says: “God comes to us disguised as our lives.” This is the message at the heart of Lent. It is in the fabric of our lives that we find the soil to plant the soul-springtime seeds that carry the potential to burst into new Easter life. Will we take up the Lenten invitation? It is our choice to fast, to feast, to prayer and to give alms. Let us do so generously and well.

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