This year, LENT starts on Ash Wednesday, February 17th. We may come to this penitential season with mixed thoughts and feelings, such as anticipation to tackle an issue the LORD has spotlighted, with dread because of a historical failure to keep resolutions, or a simple desire to grow in friendship with Christ. A faithful friend doesn’t leave when the going gets rough, but enters into, walks with, is present to, and gives real assistance. In this case, it’s Jesus who invites deeper intimacy throughout these 40 days, reminiscent of the Israelites' journey through the desert from the slavery of Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, and of His own confrontation with the enemy in the desert following His baptism.
Traditionally, the Church encourages prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent. If this seems stale and we are stuck along the way, reconsider Lent’s “Triple A” roadside insurance for the journey:
Abide. To pray is to abide in the Lord who wishes to abide in us (Jn 15: 4). How are we, specifically, called to grow in prayer? Some are good at setting aside time to pray but fail to communicate with Him always…and visa versa. “Abide” in Scripture means to dwell together, to rest in, to remain connected, to attend and wait upon. It is likely that we are called to practice the presence of God in the moment and with the person in front of us, or that we are called to set aside some time for a more meditative or contemplative prayer, rather than rote prayers. We may consider spiritual reading or just sitting in silence. Abiding doesn’t allow hiding: be real with the LORD. Abide in the vine by receiving His life-giving grace.
Allegiance. To fast is come into allegiance to the rightful ruler. Where do you need to come under His authority? In 1 Chronicles 12: 29, there is a transfer of “allegiance” from the outgoing king, Saul, to the newly anointed King, David. Men pledged fidelity unto death for the new King. Most likely, we need to make repeated transfers of loyalty to LORD. This side of the grave, it is easy to let idols co-opt first place. As in other areas of life, we may need to undertake a rigorous plan to transfer allegiance to the Lord from the “wants” of our bodies, particularly areas propone to addiction like food, drink, sex, and substances. Faced with our whimsical will, we look deeper to integrate our deepest desires in healthy ways. Prepare for spiritual battle under the standard of the cross.
Alliance. To give alms is to enter into a concrete alliance with the Lord. The prophet Isaiah warned about making alliances that are not inspired (Isaiah 30: 1). Which alliances do we need to sever…and which do we need to forge? First world citizens may know little of what our brothers and sisters in Christ suffer elsewhere. The precepts of the Church call for tithing to support the Church and monetary giving in a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. A look at our spending record, our “investments,” reveals alliances or agreements – for better and for worse! Let’s give from our need, not just our excess, and in agreement with the Holy Spirit. Let giving bring alliance with Christ’s cause for the salvation and care of others.
Let’s take the Lenten journey to prayer, and seek His will through a rebranding of pray, fast, and almsgiving through abide, allegiance, and alliance. If you are looking for some meditative material, almost anything by Fr. Jacques Philippe, Fr. Michael Gaitley, or Caryll Houselander, appeals to most. The revived discipline of Memento Mori (Remember Your Death) may be helpful as facilitated by free daily emails from Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP. There are so many good options out there now so be very selective.
Going forward, we remember that a few, small, practical steps in the right direction may be the most prudent and holy choice forward. After all, the enemy’s tactic is subtle for he uses distraction through too many “good” resolutions, overzealousness though grandiose goals that are not possible, or discouragement when we fall but struggle to get back up. Let’s be sure to give the Lord our best by seeking His will in simplicity. Lent’s “Triple A” roadside insurance brings a healthy minimalism with regard to the things of this world so that we are freed for the things of heaven, particularly deeper intimacy with Jesus Christ.
God bless you as your start your Lenten journey…