Three disciplines to correct three areas of our lives
Three disciplines for Lent correct three areas of our lives which most often distract us from spiritual growth: food, money and laziness in the life of the Spirit. The three disciplines affect our prayer book, our pocketbook and our cookbook. I’m referring, of course, to the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
It’s worth taking a moment to remember why these three disciplines are important during the Lenten season. Although the three disciplines have a practical use, they are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end. We make the three sacrifices to correct ourselves, and check our priorities so that we might draw closer to God.
Fasting is any effort to discipline our physical appetites. Giving up candy and cake is traditional, but we should put more thought into our decision about fasting and make some genuine, long lasting amendments to our lives. Giving up candy and cake can be a stepping stone to a new level of self-discipline to get ourselves more physically fit. Checking our alcohol intake by giving up drinking for Lent can correct a tendency to drift into an alcoholic habit. Giving up smoking for Lent should lead to giving it up for good.
Fasting includes more than just giving up cookies. It can include a fresh start on a healthy new lifestyle. Instead of simply giving up chocolate why not decide to take more exercise, eat better and pay more attention to your overall health choices?
Almsgiving means giving our money. Ouch! For most people that’s harder than fasting, and it’s odd isn’t it how everyone is happy to talk about “what they’re giving up for Lent” but you don’t hear many people talk about the creative new ways they have found to give more of their money to the poor or to the Lord’s work. Isn’t it strange how the discipline of almsgiving quietly drops off the Lent radar?
It shouldn’t. Giving generously of our money is a key responsibility and if we don’t take it seriously then we haven’t begun to take our spiritual life seriously. We should give generously not because the church needs the money or even because the poor need the money. We should give generously because we need to break the hold money has over us. Most of us hang on to our money and try to keep as much money as we can and give as little as we can. This is because we have put our trust in money, not God. Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and money,” and last time I checked that was still in the gospel!
Just as we should fast creatively, we should give creatively. We should look for charities that are responsible, local and creative. Our almsgiving should be done through the church wherever possible so that our responsible giving is joined with the gifts of others to do the greatest good. Responsible almsgiving includes taking an interest in the work the charity or church is doing. We should get involved with our time and talents as well as our treasure.
The goal of our increased giving and fasting is to support and further our prayer life. During Lent we should not only give ourselves an extra prayer discipline, but we should do so with our whole body, mind and spirit engaged. Prayer is not just an activity of the spirit. By reading a good book during Lent we engage our mind in our prayer life. By using devotional aids like a kneeler, the rosary, statues, icons and candles we integrate the physical into our prayer life. As Catholics all these elements contribute to a healthy, creative and positive Lent — one that draws us ever closer to Christ the Lord.
Finally, remember the words of St. Benedict. His instructions to his monks apply to the ambition of keeping a good Lent. In the sixth century the monks were known for their austerities and asceticism. Instead of extremes Benedict warned his monks that there should be “nothing harsh, nothing burdensome.” We should approach Lent with zeal and the ambition to do something extra for God, but we should also remember that our fasting, almsgiving and prayer should be balanced and moderate. Most of all we should remember that the aim of our fasting, prayer and almsgiving is to sharpen our spirits, hone our minds and draw our whole selves closer to the God who loves and redeems us.
In Fr Longenecker’s Lent Book Slubgrip Instructst he demon Slubgrip has been demoted to teach Popular Culture 101 in a college in hell. Get this inspiring, entertaining and sobering Lenten read here as either a book or e-book.