As we begin Lent on Ash Wednesday, let us heed the call of the Church and respond to a time of renewal and conversion. We need to intensify our response to the Lord’s invitation through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These forty days is a time of grace and renewal, a time to re-live and deepen our relationship with the Lord and the people in our lives.
Today, more than ever, we need to pray for the needs of the world, especially for Myanmar and Ukraine. Many there are suffering through no fault of theirs and we must unite in prayer for them. There are also those who have asked us to pray for them. Let us set aside some time in our busy day to pray for those whom we promised to, mentioning them each by name.
Apart from praying for our needs and the needs of others and the world, we need to also pause to listen to what God is saying to us. God’s invitation to Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:10) is to enter into a deeper relationship with Him. It is only in our relation with the Lord that we can respond to His invitation to love our sisters and brothers in need and those who are suffering. They too, like us, are children of God, made in His image and likeness.
Fasting is effective only when there is a good, especially towards others, that comes out of it. Otherwise fasting is vainglory. When we fast, it reminds us of the need to live in solidarity with those who have less in whatever way, living simply so that others may simply live.
Fasting from food is perhaps the easiest of ways. But what about other ways of fasting? Pope Francis constantly reminds us to fast from gossips, angry words, putting others down, judgement, and indifference. Instead, we are encouraged to praise, affirm, love, and care. When we fast from the heart, we bring life to humanity, the environment, and God’s created world. When we discern about our needs and wants, we live in solidarity with the poor, the struggling, the downcast, and the disengaged.
Pope Francis tells us that almsgiving as a charity is one which changes the situation of others. He recommends that we meet the poor in the flesh. Almsgiving is also a call to commit ourselves by giving our time, concerns, cares, and labour to those in need. Besides material contribution, perhaps we can make time to visit someone in need, to stop and offer a hand to those who need help, give a smile to someone who needs comfort, or offer a shoulder to someone who is burdened. Almsgiving is not only giving the excess from our pockets or wardrobes. It is a genuine sacrifice to make do with less, so that others in need could have a little something more.
Our children are learning to make little sacrifices daily and to give what they saved to the needy. This year, the children from our two primary schools are making that effort to give what they have (and not what their parents have) to the Villa Francis and St Joseph’s Home, the two aged homes run by the Canossian Sisters. The young are also learning that they can do with less and yet still be happy. What about us?
So let us make use of Lent to prepare ourselves for the new life ahead of us. Easter is a reminder that there is so much in life to rejoice in when we allow the risen Jesus to touch our hearts and bring us back to God. He needs each of us to make a difference in the world today and every day. Consciously during Lent, we pray and ask the Holy Spirit to “Let it begin with me …”