Today we enjoy a last feast before tomorrow when Ash Wednesday ushers in the season of Lent. I wrote yesterday about Lenten fasting, but fasting is but one of the three elements of this penitential period. During Lent we are supposed to increase our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Even as adults we can grumble about giving up desserts or that evening glass of wine. Who has time for extra prayer? I already give what I can… And then, perhaps, we look at a crucifix and realize we are getting pretty soft! Maybe it is time to step back and refocus.
The Church does not impose this season of penance upon us; it is really a gift, if we receive it as such. Scaling back from some of the excesses in our lives and replacing it with prayer and charity is good for us – the spiritual equivalent of a diet “cleanse.” It is not necessarily pleasant in and of itself, but is very rewarding in the end.
It is good for us to submit to the authority of the Church. It is a reminder to ourselves that we are not the boss of our lives. We have free will, of course, but we can will ourselves to submit to legitimate authority. We do that all the time without thinking of it every time we stop at a traffic light or pay our bills. The Church has its rules also and we follow them for our own well-being and for others.
Many of us don’t know how to pray well and so the thought of more prayer time is not appealing. We should remember that there are different kinds of prayer and one of the most effective ways of increasing our prayer time is to read and reflect on scripture or other spiritual reading. Perhaps giving up half an hour of TV or computer time and spending it with an open Bible might be doable – and results are guaranteed.
Fasting can take various forms. Yesterday, I outlined the basics, but fasting from social media or unnecessary shopping or other time wasters might also be an effective sacrifice that will free up time and possibly money to put toward more productive activities.
Almsgiving is charity – giving to those in need. It is most effective when tied to the sacrifices we make. Save money on the purchased coffees or lunches we forego and give it to those who only dream of such little luxuries. Our children can be part of this effort and will enjoy collecting their nickels and dimes for the needy.
In the meantime, today is Shrove Tuesday! Mardi Gras! Fat Tuesday! Before we take on the penances of Lent, we enjoy what we have to the max today. Traditionally, it’s pancakes for supper – a throwback to when good Christians had to use up their flour, butter, eggs and milk in anticipation of their rigorous Lenten fast. We have an easier time of it now, but we still enjoy the party the night before. It is a great teaching opportunity and a fun time.