Many people wonder why do we focus on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent.
We focus on these three aspects to fulfill the words of Christ who said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:10-12). God wants us to be joyful and the Church does as well. This is why it asks us to focus on two overarching themes:
- Obey the commandments. Our Lord tells us these are summed up by two, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
- Avoid sin and temptations. Counter those things that keep us from the joy that God and the Church intend for us; namely sin and the temptations that lead to them. The Church labels the sources of these temptations as the flesh, the world, and the Devil.
So if we were to look at Lent with the heart of the Church, it would look something like this:
|Blocks/Counters||Aspect of Lent||Deepens||Love of|
Let us start with sin and temptation as those are the things that do not bring us joy and enslave us as Jesus tells us, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Then we will connect it to the positive aspect of love which is what we all are made for.
Fasting. We fast to deny our flesh. If we get into satisfying our flesh or passions too much; we no long live as human beings, but like animals. The thing is we are most happy not when we have to “follow our urges” but when we can reasonably follow our hearts. Denying our flesh every now and then through fasting helps us to do this. In return, this helps us love ourselves properly.
Almsgiving. Next, we have temptations from the world. The world would tell us that we have to focus only on ourselves or if we have to go outside ourselves, it is simply to be popular at whatever cost. Almsgiving focuses us to use our time and talents for the good of others; not for popularity; not for the glory of self, but for love of the other. Thus, we can “love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Prayer. Finally, there are temptations from the devil. At the heart of his temptations is taking us away from God. Therefore, we must stay connected to God to counter the devil. This is done through prayer. So in prayer, we not only counter the devil, but more importantly learn how to love God. Thus, we can fulfill the Great Commandment of loving God, neighbor and self.
In conclusion, we see that the three aspects of Lent help us to counter temptations that lead to misery while simultaneously strengthening love. In strengthening love by properly ordering our hearts by putting God first, we realize that everything else is given to us. This is why Jesus in Himself and His Mystical Body the Church tell us to “seek first the kingdom of God and the rest will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
What God and the Church want to give us is “rest”; rest from the sorrows of life, tiredness, slavery to sin and that rest or abiding in God’s love leads to joy! This is why they recommend to us fasting, almsgiving, and prayer during this grace-filled time of Lent.