Thought for the weekend
During Lent, we contemplate Jesus preparing for His public ministry by praying and fasting, for 40 days and 40 nights, in the wilderness.
As Christians, we seek to imitate the Lord by undertaking self-denial and by pausing, more frequently, in prayerful wonder, during this season which prepares us spiritually for the great festival of our redemption.
The discipline of Lent is to make us more acutely focused as disciples of Jesus. It is a time to become more mature as daughters and sons of God. It is to strive, with renewed vigour, towards our "full stature" in Christ (see Ephesians 4:13).
The Lenten journey is made by the whole Church as an act of loving communion with one another and of solidarity with all of suffering humanity. Integral to our spiritual practices during Lent is a profound awareness of the plight of the poor.
During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasised three interconnected ways of deepening our communion with the Father: almsgiving, prayer and fasting (see Matthew 6:1-16,16-18).
Prayer, according to a classic definition, is the "raising of the mind and heart to God". Prayer is the ascending movement towards God. Almsgiving and fasting are the movement outwards, generated by that love kindled by prayer, towards the hungry and the poor.
Fasting is an act of solidarity with the hungry which is intended to foster, within us, a disposition of gratitude. Put simply, fasting makes us grateful for what we have and it makes us more keenly aware of the plight of those who have not.
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Fasting, however, is not an end in itself. For the next step is almsgiving - the focused outreach, to alleviate the sufferings of our sisters and brothers, who live in dire poverty and relentless hunger.
Giving to the poor, fasting and prayer, are intended to divert our focus away from ourselves. That is why the Lord warns us that these activities must never be to attract the attention or admiration of others.
Lent is a call and an invitation to purify our love of any self-interest and to remove from our hearts and minds all vestiges of self-centredness. The word itself 'Lent', from the old English word 'lencten' - to lengthen, itself contains a clue.
We are to lengthen the outreach of our hearts to embrace all of our brothers and sisters -particularly the poor - who are the especial friends of God.