Prayer, Fasting, and Alms-giving.

by Sr Tamsin Mary Geach o.p.

It is fashionable to decry the old-fashioned three-fold disciplines of Lent – prayer, fasting and almsgiving- as ‘negative’, over against a more ‘positive’ approach – ‘taking up’ rather than ‘giving up’.   For example a certain person has publicised on the internet their intention to take up the Saxophone for Lent, as well as signing up for a well-publicised 40 days of colour-coded online sponsored  act of generosity. 

However, fasting, prayer and alms-giving have endured as the three different ways to practice Lent.  These three practices have their roots in the example and preaching of Our Lord:  Before His public ministry Jesus fasted and prayed for forty days and nights in the desert.  (Matt.4.2)  He advocates fasting and prayer not as a way to raise money to give away, but as a powerful weapon in the spiritual battle against the devil. (Matt17.21).    He promotes the practice of prayer fasting and alms-giving (secretly)in the sermon on the mount (Matt. ch6).  What he describes is a far cry from the On-line saxophonist!

What is the point?  One of the things Our Lord came to do was to give us a pattern for our duty – a way of holiness.  Therefore it makes no sense as a Christian to turn away from the path He sets before us.  The three-fold discipline addresses the three-fold aspect of our fallen nature.  Fasting addresses our bodily passions, almsgiving addresses the tendency to put money or possessions or any other material good between ourselves and God, while prayer acknowledges our total dependency on God, and turns us away from the sin of pride. 

All of which said, each has a ‘positive’ aspect too:  we take control of ourselves by fasting, we show love to our fellow men by alms-giving, and we  grow in love and faith through prayer.  The Church wisely sets these here things before us together.  We should not do one to the neglect of the others, otherwise we may be richer and more full of pride at the end of a successfully kept Lenten penance!  Each works as a check and balance to the other – so if you give up chocolate, give the money saved to the poor, and thank God for the grace He gives you to persevere.  In this way you will reap the benefit, and come through to Easter ready for the sorrow and joy of the Triduum.  God Bless!

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