Our liturgical calendar is filled with saints who lived colorful lives of extraordinary grace. They serve as models of the Christian life for us. They are “raised to the altars” precisely to show us that we, too, can give our lives over to Jesus and have our actions animated by His Spirit.
In the season of Lent, we are called to examine our lives, turn away from sin, and renew our commitment to living as Christ taught us. Traditionally, we are invited to engage in three practices that Jesus recommends to us in Matthew 6: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. By embracing these practices, we can refresh our spiritual lives.
Many of the saints made such practices the center of their lives. Though we might not match the extremes to which the saints took these disciplines, we can still learn from their spirit. Let’s look at three saints whose feast days are celebrated during Lent, and whose lives were exemplars of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting.
Almsgiving – Katherine Drexel
Almsgiving is the practice of giving to those in need. (The English word “alms” comes from the Greek eleēmosunē, “compassion,” the root of which is eleos, “mercy.”) The Christian tradition tells us that we have a duty to provide for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien. (See Exodus 22-23, or James 1.) Some saints have gone so far as to not only give of their excess, but to give all to the poor.
St. Katharine Drexel, whom we celebrate on March 3, was an American heiress born just before the Civil War. She gave up her wealth (equivalent to $200 million today!) and entered a convent. She had a heart for missions, and devoted her life to serving Native Americans and African Americans, opening schools for them across the country.
Prayer – Dominic Savio
Prayer, the “raising of one’s heart and mind to God,” as St. John Damascene defined it, is central to our relationship with the Lord. In Lent, we turn back to prayer and away from the distractions of the world. St. Dominic Savio, whose feast day is March 10, only lived to be 14 years old, but his life was marked by prayerfulness. He would spend hours in silent meditation, and would have heavenly visions, even while playing with other children. Given to frail health, and perhaps sensing he would not live long, he knew that if nothing else, he could at least pray.
Fasting – Joseph Oriol
Fasting from goods or pleasures reminds us that, while God has made creation for us to enjoy, what we ultimately need to bring us fulfillment are not the things of this world, but God Himself. St. Joseph Oriol, who is celebrated on March 23, was a 17th-century Spanish priest and professor. Yet apart from his teaching, he became known not only for the many miraculous healings he performed, but also for his intense regimen of fasting. During Lent each year, he ate only once a week!
Turn to your heavenly friends this Lent
Spending Lent with the saints is a great way to grow in holiness. We can gain inspiration from learning about their lives. While most of us do not have million-dollar fortunes to give away, we can be more generous with what we have toward those who have less. While few of us will have ecstatic visions in prayer, we can commit to spending more time in silence with God. While likely none of us could subsist on only one meal a week, all of us can recognize luxuries and extras that we can do without. By putting aside these things, we will find we have more room in our hearts for the one thing necessary: God’s grace.
Live Lent with a devotion of the early Christians: Join us to see Rome’s “station churches”