Lent 2024

02-14-2024Reflections and Resources

“Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart…” So begins the first reading of Ash Wednesday, a reading from the Old Testament book of the prophet Joel. Just a bit later, the prophet further exhorts us to “[r]end your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God”. And so, Lent begins with a call to return to God genuinely and wholeheartedly, a call, perhaps a reminder, which we hear every year at this time. The gospel reading for Ash Wednesday, taken from Matthew’s gospel, tells us of three ways in which we can concretely express our return to God: giving alms, praying and fasting. (You can find the Ash Wednesday readings and all the daily Mass readings at bible.usccb.org.) These three spiritual practices are often referred to as the pillars, or disciplines of Lent. Here are some thoughts about how we can carry out each of these means of returning to and encountering God.

Almsgiving is the first of the three pillars of Lenten discipline that we’ll consider; it may also be the pillar which most reminds us that we encounter God in other people. The definition of almsgiving is simple: it is the “act of donating money or goods to the poor or performing other acts of charity” (bit.ly/DWMalmsgiving). The Divine Word Missionaries’ website goes on to tell us that the “roots of the word ‘alms’ can be found in ancient Latin and Greek words meaning mercy and pity. Similarly, the root of the word ‘charity’ comes from the Latin “caritas,” meaning love”. These are simple concepts which tell us that during Lent, or throughout the year, as the Divine Word Missionaries (DWM) stress, we are to give of ourselves, our money, goods or our time, to help others who are in need. Suggestions for almsgiving are provided on the DWM website; you may also want to consider local charities such as our own St. Vincent de Paul Society.

The second pillar of Lenten discipline that is mentioned in the gospel is that of prayer.  Pope Francis calls prayer “the breath of faith…like a cry that issues from the heart of those who believe and entrust themselves to God” (bit.ly/PFPrayer). In anticipation of the Jubilee Year of 2025, which begins on Christmas Eve of 2024, the pope has declared this calendar year to be a Year of Prayer. Watch the bulletin for more information about both the Year of Prayer and the Jubilee Year. This Lent, find a new way (or ways) to raise your heart or voice to God in prayer. One such way may be to attend Evening Prayer, accompanied by Eucharistic Adoration and the sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) on Wednesdays from 7:00-8:00pm.

Fasting, the intentional saying “no” to a legitimate pleasure, is the third and final Lenten discipline that we will address. It’s one discipline that seems to stick with us as we age. How many times have we heard (or spoken) the question “What are you giving up for Lent?” Fr. Mike Schmitz has a very engaging and thought-provoking video about fasting, in which he outlines four reasons why we fast and some examples of how we might do it. You may want to take a look at Fr. Mike’s video at bit.ly/FMfasting.