The Holy Season of Lent prepares us for the greatest feast of all feasts: Easter, just the way Advent Season prepares us for Christmas. Church History made it clear to us that the Christian communities in the early Church organized all their celebrations around the great Feast of Easter. As time went on, gradually, it was felt that the celebration of Easter had to be organized in a very special way; by setting aside some few days of prayer and fasting as an immediate Spiritual preparation for such a Solemn and important Feast. Eventually, the time for this preparation was extended to the symbolic forty days recalling the forty days and forty nights Jesus spent in the desert praying and fasting (Cf. Matt. 4:2). This is the origin of Lenten Season in the Church’s Liturgical Calendar.
Today being Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of another journey of Spiritual preparation for Easter. Lent begins with the imposition of blessed Ashes on our foreheads by the Priests, and it ends on Holy Thursday with Lord’s Supper. The Blessed ashes imposed on our foreheads are symbol calling us to repentance and conversion. It is not a magic non juju powder as some would rather think. Because you see both Catholics and non- Catholics alike rushing to receive ashes on their foreheads with no understanding of its symbolism. The Ashes act as a reminder of our nothingness and total dependent on God. It is a wake up call to leave sin behind and make a return (Metanoia) to the Lord for mercy and forgiveness.
The Lenten Season also invites us to commemorate and reflect on the Lord’s passion through Prayer, penance, and almsgiving. Lent has its etymological root in Anglo-Saxon words lencten, meaning "spring," and also in German and Latin words. In Latin Quadragesima meaning “forty days.” While in Germanic word langatīnaz meaning “Spring Season.” Spring is a time of change and new life. Beautiful flowers and greens that died with winter spring to life again. Lent, in order word, is a spiritual spring, a time for Spiritual renewal and reawakening. If our Spiritual life has been in a state of slumber, it is time to reawaken it again during this Lenten Season through the three Pillars the Church provided for us: 1). Prayer, 2). Fasting, and 3). Almsgiving.
What do we mean by Prayer, fasting and Almsgiving? Prayer is when we reconnect ourselves with God. Listening to Him while He speaks to our Hearts. It is a dialogue with our Creator. Fasting is depriving ourselves of food and action, and other activities, we like to indulge in that may necessarily not bring glory to God. For example, Pope Francis admonishes us during this Lent to fast from gossips. In order words, depriving ourselves from both good and bad things for the glory of God. Almsgiving is not only when we give material goods to others. It is far more than that. It includes loving others, listening to them, advising, rebuking in love, showing affection to others for the greater glory of God.
St Peter Chrysologus, he says: “Prayer knocks, fasting obtains, Almsgiving / mercy receives.” He further added that the three things by which Christian faith stands firmly on are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, fasting and Almsgiving: these three are one, and they give life to each other. These are the weapons against the three temptations of life which Jesus Himself fought and won. They are pride, lust, and greed. Prayer fights the sin of pride; Fasting fights the sin of lust; and almsgiving fight the sin of greed. Jesus' temptation shows this clear in Matthew 4:1-11.
“Fasting is the soul of prayer, Almsgiving is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. As Scripture says: "Pray without ceasing" (I Theses 5:17), and "Do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thess 5:19).
So when we pray as individuals, what is it we are seeking? What is our understanding of payer? Prayer, fasting and mercy/almsgiving are the pillars our Christian faith rests on. Let us hold fast to these three pillars. Let us not be deceived by any strange teachings. As we begin this Spiritual Journey may the Lord begin with us and end it with us. If today you hear His voice Harden not your Heart (Psalm 95:8, Hebrew 3: 15).
Sr. Monica Omowumi Rowland, SSH
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