February 18, 2018
1st Sunday of Lent
“The Kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent ans believe in the Gospel.”
Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving
We have just entered the season of Lent—40 days of prayer and penance which help us to repent from sin and turn back to God. And the Church gives us the spiritual practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving as important ways to enter into this Lenten season.
As human beings we are composed of a body and a soul. Our body and our soul work so closely together that what we do physically effects us spiritually, and vice versa. This is why, for example, when we pray we often kneel down, close our eyes, and fold our hands, because this physical posture aids our prayer by giving it attention and focus. The most important part of our prayer is the spiritual raising of our mind and heart to God, but it is so much easier to do this when our body is also in a posture of prayer.
This is also why we practice fasting and abstinence, because the physical denial of our bodily desires, such as for food, aids us in spiritual growth and in denying sinful desires.
St. Paul says, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God”. We do this when we fast, for, we when we deny ourselves from eating food, the hunger our body experiences becomes a sacrifice for the Lord.
Additionally, fasting and abstinence make us grow in virtue by helping us learn self-denial and self-mastery. For, when we deny ourselves from eating something, we master ourselves and our desire for food. We show that we have control over our passions and desires. Self-mastery is a very important virtue, for it helps us avoid sin in the future. If we can say no to eating food when we are hungry, then we are more likely to be able to avoid sin when we are tempted.
One of the prayers during Lent acknowledges this purpose of fasting: For through bodily fasting you restrain our faults, raise up our minds, and bestow both virtue and its rewards.
Canon Law defines that Catholics from age 18 until age 59 are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but not to equal a full meal. And abstinence from meat on Fridays must be observed by all Catholics from age 14 onwards.
Those who are pregnant, or nursing, or who are sick do not need to strictly follow the rules on fasting and abstinence. Please ask me or another priest if you ever have any questions about this.
Almsgiving too is a very important spiritual practice for Lent. Almsgiving embraces under the single name of mercy, not only financial giving, but many other works of charity as well, so that all the faithful, no matter their material wealth, are able to participate in almsgiving. Thus, the rich, the poor, and those of average means, are able to play their part in almsgiving. Those unequal in their capacity to give financially can be equal in the love within their hearts.
Consider the story of the Widow’s Mite, where she gave only two pennies, but Jesus said she gave more than all the others, because she gave what she could, whereas the others only gave from their surplus wealth. Her almsgiving excelled the others because her love excelled the others.
The Church has great wisdom in teaching us to practice these important spiritual practices for Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
You are in my daily prayers.
God bless you,
Fr. Nick VanDenBroeke