The 3 keys to Lenten observance have traditionally been: Almsgiving, Fasting, and Prayer. Let’s take a look at these actions and see why they have always been the hallmark of this time of preparation. Let’s see if our understanding of these is true. Or, have we allowed ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of what we think they are.

In these days of tight money, almsgiving seems to be put on the back burner. I will get around to it, when I am able. I can’t meet my own bills. I can’t possibly do anything at this time. These are all very understandable, but must almsgiving only be money? Think of people’s needs and ask yourself a question, “Is everything that people need always monetary?” What do people need besides money? People, all people, need friendship, love, and understanding. Their needs may be a car ride, a baby sitter, food shopping, or your companionship. There are many ways to help people, but the key is… to look at them, to understand them, to be empathetic. To see a person’s need, one must first see the person. THIS is where Christianity comes in. THIS is what makes almsgiving, a loving action. It is much easier to whip out a dollar and give it to someone. You could almost do it without even seeing their face, but there is nothing in the action that says, “I really care about you”. Lent is a time of caring, of loving, of joy.

Fasting is something that we can strive to do, but depending on our circumstances of health, age, and dietary needs we may not be able to pursue this with much vitality. We also may like our food and drink too much and are reluctant to do without it. What is fasting? Our immediate thoughts think of doing without, of deprivation, of limiting our intake of food and drink. Is this really what fasting is all about? Why do we fast? This question hits at the heart of the concept of fasting. In fasting, we are trying to join our lives with Jesus’. He suffered and died for us, we want to show Him in some way that we understand, we appreciate, we try to emulate. But can I fast without food? Doing without our convenience, our special time for us, or our comfort: these can all be examples of fasting, as well. BUT… doing without just for the sake of doing without is meaningless. Why do I allow myself to be inconvenienced? What am I doing now with my special time? What is happening that I allow myself to be put into an uncomfortable position? If the answer to these questions is: “I was helping someone else” then our fasting was truly Christian. Lent is a time of caring, of loving, of joy.

This leaves us with… Prayer. There are so many ways to pray, so many ways to lift our hearts and minds to God, that it should be an easy task. But it isn’t…why? Prayer always seems like a chore, why is that? I don’t have the time. It seems so repetitive. Same words all the time, it just isn’t me. The excuses go on and on and on. Stop for a moment. Look into your soul. Think of a prayer right now, any prayer, any style, any manner and then look at what you feel, see the emotions that arise within you. What are those feelings? Boredom? Disinterest? Sigh? Tired? Again, already? Maybe we don’t really know how to pray. Maybe we really don’t know what prayer is. Maybe we really don’t know Who it is that we are talking with. Each time we go to church we kneel down and begin to pray. What do we say? The old standbys of Our Father, Hail Mary and the Glory be, the Act of Contrition? We seem to have said them so often that they are almost meaningless to us anymore. Prayer is a conversation with our God: Father, Son, and Spirit.

To God, our Creator, thank you. Thank you for your love of me. Thank you for hanging in there with me. Thank you for all that you have given me. Thank you for all that you have not given me. You care for me as a loving parent. I hope I can become worthy of your love for me.

To God, our Redeemer, thank you. I thank you for showing me with your life how I am to live mine. You showed me with your care of others how much you care for me. You are with me every step of the way, even when I forget that you are there. Thank you for your love for me.

To God, the Spirit of Love, thank you. Thank you for all the times you guided me, even though I just thought it was a coincidence. Thank you for the flame of love you have given me in my heart. May I always be willing to give that flame to others.