On Ash Wednesday, Roman Catholics begin the holy season of Lent. This is a time to do exactly what we were exhorted to do when we had ashes sprinkled on our head — “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
In our present age, with all of the problems and difficulties that we have as a nation and a city, what can we do to have a good Lent?
The Church proposes three primary ways to grow in holiness in our lives during Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
First, prayer. What is prayer? Nothing less than engaging in a loving conversation with our God. Sometimes it involves listening, and sometimes it involves talking.
This Lent, let’s do some more listening. In our world, where divisions can be seen as permanent, perhaps this Lent, you can pray by name for our enemies, for people with whom you have had disagreements, both living and deceased, and ask for the Lord’s blessings upon them.
Second, fasting. You know the rules of the Church’s discipline on fasting and abstinence and they must be followed if we are of the age to be obliged to do so. However, fasting means so much more than just giving up candy or soda.
One way to fast in this season of Lent is to abstain from posting on social media. Last year, at the beginning of Lent, many Catholics gave up social media completely just to find themselves going back to Facebook to watch livestreamed Masses from their parish two or three weeks later. This was one of the many ways in which the pandemic changed our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic was just a worrisome development on Ash Wednesday in 2020, but by the end of Lent, New York State had more cases of COVID-19 than any country in the world. And we are still going through the same pandemic.
While we can now go to church while taking the necessary precautions, social media is still an important way to keep in touch with your family, friends, and community. Maybe giving up social media entirely is not a realistic option.
From Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, how about not posting anything negative or divisive on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram? Instead, how about making the investment of time and effort that is calling someone on the phone or, better still, maybe sending them a card or a handwritten letter? We have lost the sense of the personal. Letter writing is a kind, thoughtful way to reach out to someone.
Third, almsgiving. Indeed, this means giving more to charities and people in need; however, another way to give alms is to share in the most precious resource in the world — our time. Loneliness is a serious problem, affecting millions of people around the world. It affects people’s health, both mentally and physically.
At no time has this been truer than in this time of COVID-19. Have you returned that phone call, that letter, that e-mail to someone who just wanted to say hello? Giving the alms of our most precious resource, time, might just be the thing to do to grow in holiness.
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — three sure ways the Church gives us to become empty so that the Lord can fill us.
Praise God for this gift!