Prayer, Fasting & Almsgiving | Friar Reflections | The First Sunday of Lent

(Editors Note: Embarking on a new tradition in 2022, the friars of Sacred Heart will alternate penning a letter or discussion aimed to help parishioners engage with the readings, the parish, or their outreach initiatives on a weekly basis. This new practice continues with a letter from our pastor, Fr. Mike Jones, providing insight on how to follow Jesus’ call to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during our Lenten journey)

Dear Sacred Heart Parishioners,

In the Gospel on Ash Wednesday, we heard from Jesus the needs for prayer, fasting and almsgiving. This passage from Matthew’s Gospel featuring some of Jesus’ core teachings to his disciples is a wonderful reminder to us that during Lent these three themes are connected. Why do we fast or have a simple meal? It is so we can share those resources with the poor, for instance. I have gone into more detail about these three pillars of Lent and have given some suggestions on how we might practice each one during Lent.

The first pillar of Lent is prayer. Lent is a time of spiritual renewal, and during Lent we put special time aside to be prayerful and reflective. Good communication is a sign of good friendship. Lent calls us to renew our relationship with God, by communicating with God each and every day. Some people like to pray with the scriptures during Lent. Others like to pray the rosary, or some other devotional prayer. Others still may find a time to sit quietly each day in God’s presence. There are as many different ways to pray, or communicate with God, as there are prayers, but we encourage you to find a way of connecting with God that feels right for you.

Here are some ideas to reconnect through prayer:

  • Experiment with a new form or way of praying. (walking a labyrinth, Lectio Divina,  meditation)
  • For one week, set your alarm 10 minutes early and spend that time in prayer before starting your day
  • For one week, do an examination of conscience before you go to bed, reviewing your day
  • Set up/decorate an intentional space for prayer (a quiet corner, a comfortable chair, a place in nature)
  • Participate in the Stations of the Cross, or pray the rosary each week (or pray one decade per day)
  • Celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation/Penance this Lent

The second Lenten pillar is fasting and abstinence. Fasting is the practice of limiting the food that we eat on certain days. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday we fast, meaning that we only have two small meals. Abstinence is the practice of not eating certain types of food. On Ash Wednesday and the Fridays in Lent, we abstain from eating meat. Fasting and abstinence reminds us of our total dependence on God. These practices help us to remember that ultimately it is only through the love of God that we are fed, nourished and sustained. The practices also help us remember to abstain from those things that pull us away from being the people God wants us to be.

Ideas for fasting and abstinence:

  • Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstain from meat every Friday in Lent
  • Give up eating out for one week or more, and donate the money saved to a food bank
  • Choose one unhealthy habit (junk food, smoking, gossip) to abstain from for at least one week at a time
  • Abstain from buying any new clothing this month and purge your closet for donations
  • Abstain from social media for one week, and spend the time saved reading scripture or in spiritual reflection
  • Abstain from complaining for one week, and instead, journal five things each day for which you are grateful

The third pillar of Lent is almsgiving, or acts of mercy and love. Almsgiving and acts of mercy are ways in which we tell God that we will not be possessed by our possessions, but are ready and willing to share our possessions or valuable time in the service of others. During Lent, we make a special effort to do acts of charitable service or take up collections of food or clothing for those in need.

How almsgiving can help guide your Lenten journey:

  • Throughout Lent, save up your loose change in a jar and donate to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul
  • Volunteer once a week to help others; serve at a soup kitchen, mow a neighbor’s yard, rake leaves for your parents
  • Stop by a nearby nursing home, and spend an hour visiting with the residents
  • Make cards for those who are sick, shut-in, or incarcerated; let them know someone cares
  • Perform one act of random kindness every day for a week
  • Donate food to a local food pantry each week

Fr. Mike