Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

02-26-2023Weekly ReflectionFr. Chris Axline

Hello St. Mary Magdalene,

Happy Lent! As we begin this Lenten journey I pray that the Lord will guide you through your disciplines and lead you closer to Him. Lent is a powerful time to draw closer to the Lord and journey with Christ throughout His time in the desert, fasting, praying, and making intentional sacrifices so that God’s Providence would be more apparent to us in our daily life. Traditionally the Church recommends three practices for Lent that help us to mortify ourselves spiritually and physically: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Prayer can be defined simply as a conversation with God. However, how that conversation takes place (or even whether or not it takes place) is influenced by us. One of the greatest challenges to prayer though is that it’s as diverse and varied in methodology as we are. Fortunately, for us, is that other than not praying at all, there’s no wrong way to pray! Rosaries, Scripture, devotions, songs/music, or spontaneous prayers are all excellent! What’s most important when determining a solid prayer rhythm is how do you best relate to God? Through what method/technique are you most aware of God’s presence? Also, influential though in prayer is consistency; praying at the same time every day can be a huge help to establishing a rhythm of prayer. As you ask the Holy Spirit to guide you on how to strengthen your prayer life this lent, don’t overdo it! Don’t take on too many things, you don’t have to do “all the things.” It’s actually more beneficial to the spiritual life to have one thing that you can do regularly, intentionally, and do well than it is to do many things with little intentionality or focus.

Fasting: the practice where we voluntarily go without something good in order to recognize that God is the Greatest Good in our life. Fasting helps us re-prioritize our life by giving up something good. Giving up something evil or harmful for us isn’t sacrificial, it's obligatory; giving up something that’s good for God, that is meritorious! Fasting therefore should sting, it should be a challenge. Part of fasting’s merits is the ability to say, “I want to do X but I freely choose not to.” This ability to resist temptation by intentionally choosing Christ follows Our Lord’s temptation of turning the stone into bread. Our Lord knows that that stone being a stone is good, it’s doing what He created it to do! Manipulating it, making it do something it wasn’t meant to do violates that purpose of that stone. Thus, we see an additional merit to fasting; contextualizing worldly goods within the scope of God’s Providence.

Almsgiving assists fasting by posturing us towards gratitude. Do I think of everything I have as a gift: i.e., my house, my car, my phone, my education, my toys? These gifts we receive everyday are part of Our Father’s Providential Love for us: He’s given us these things as daily reminders of His Love for us. Do I see them that way? Sometimes though, it’s too easy to get lost in consumption, the desire for more. For us then, almsgiving is a great way to combat this. Every time we give alms we’re making an intentional choice to do good. Now, by almsgiving here I’m not just talking about money; that’s a part of the picture. There’s also the gift of time and talent! Do I have a talent/gift that could be of value to someone else? Do I have extra time that I can offer? Here I want to acknowledge all those who volunteer at St. Mary Magdalene, we honestly couldn’t do what we do without you, thank you! Almsgiving recognizes that yes, I could be doing something else, but I’m making a gift of myself: talents, time, and treasure– to someone else; acting for their good so that they experience an act of charity (great or small) through you so that they might see God!

To conclude, Lent can present a temptation to take on too many practices; thus, I recommend no more than 1 or 2 things that you can do intentionally and regularly, don’t burn yourself out with penances. Prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the 1 or 2 practices that will allow you to most readily see God’s Work in your life and may our time in the desert prepare us for the joy of Easter, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God” (Romans 8:18-19, NABRE).