When you think of the season of Lent, what do you think of? Lent is a penitential season, a time to repent from our sins and to increase in our life of virtue. My big problem with Lent is that it is often perceived as a kind of dark season. After all we use ashes to get us started, and we are reminded of our death: “remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return”. The way I like to think of Lent is as a time of doing a good cleaning of our life. Just as we try to declutter our houses from time to time, so too we are invited to declutter our spiritual houses during Lent. During this season of penance we are invited to go back to the basics of our Christian living by focusing on the following practices: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
First, there is prayer. One of the most common questions I’m faced with is “how can I pray better?” The key to praying well is to practice. If we take time each day to talk to God, to reflect upon His Sacred Word, to thank Him for everything, we will learn how to pray. To renew our prayer life we should simply make a commitment to it.
Second is fasting, traditionally seen as eating less. The purpose of fasting is to help us in the way we use the things of this world, remembering that “we don’t live to eat, but we eat to live”. Jesus said: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”(Mt4:4). We are invited to limit the pleasures of this world in order to realize that we don’t need them in order to be happy. We fast from the things of this world in order to make more room for spiritual goods (friendships, family, God, etc.)
And third, there is almsgiving. This spiritual practice helps us to be mindful of the needs of others, and to see our Christian vocation as one of service. Jesus came to serve and not to be served, St. Paul referred to himself as the servant of God, and we are called to see ourselves in the same way. These three spiritual practices are offered to the faithful during the season of Lent as a way of simplifying our life of faith, of decluttering or cleaning our interior life. I must admit that I never liked the work of cleaning, but I always appreciated having a clean space to live in. Lent is here, so let’s get busy cleaning.