The three pillars of Lent

By Bishop Robert Morneau | Special to The Compass | February 26, 2014

The Leo Frigo Bridge in Green Bay is used by over 40,000 vehicles each day. This past autumn there was a sag in the road as some pillars gave way. Needless to say, the bridge was closed until repairs were made.

Lenten Series 2014:  The three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving

Lenten Series 2014:

The three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving

Part I: Introduction by Bishop Morneau

Part II: Prayer methods to use during Lent

Part III: What will eating less food accomplish?

Part IV: Prayer leads us into actions of love

Part V: Fasting: Letting God fill our needs so to fill others’ needs

Part VI: The unconditional love God has for all of us

Pillars not only support our massive physical structures, they also support our personal and social lives. When they give way, relationships are endangered. When we stop praying, our relationship with God becomes superficial; when we stop fasting, dissipation and indulgence can lead to disorder, and even addictions; when we stop giving alms and start hoarding our treasure, joy and peace disappear from our lives.

Jesus is clear and emphatic: pray, fast, give alms. These Gospel imperatives are the pillars that support and sustain three crucial relationships: our relationship with our triune God; our relationship with our self; our relationships with our sisters and brothers who are in need. These spiritual exercises of praying, fasting, and giving alms present a simple, clear and inclusive game plan for the spiritual journey.

Prayer! Jesuit Fr. Michael Paul Gallagher offers this description of prayer: “Christian prayer means relaxing into the reality of being loved by God, in order to rise, each day, into the gritty reality of loving.” Prayer begins with the faith conviction that God loves us and delights in our presence. This conviction is sometimes tested because of our awareness of our flaws and sins. Does God really love us? Did Christ really die for us? We need the gift of the Holy Spirit to affirm, again and again, that we are precious in God’s eyes and that he calls us each by name (Isaiah 43). In prayer we are to relax in God’s love. But then, after this communion with the Lord, we are sent forth to share that love with others. This loving is gritty and sacrificial. It will demand a dying to oneself to be for others, as Jesus is for us. No surprise that people might stop praying.

Fast! Why should we take on the spiritual exercise of fasting, mortification, asceticism? Sounds rather “deadly,” not life-giving? On the contrary. This spiritual exercise is an invitation to life, to a full, vibrant life. Asceticism — the discipline of self-denial — leads to freedom, joy and peace. Excessive self-indulgence is dangerous not only to our physical well-being but to our spiritual life as well. Disorder sets in and darkens our minds and weakens our wills. Fasting gets our house in order, enriches our prayer life and gives us energy to serve others.

Almsgiving! Just as prayer strengthens and deepens our relationship with God, just as fasting and discipline free us from addictions, so too almsgiving fosters our relationship with our sisters and brothers and frees us from greed. The gifts given us are to be shared, be that our time, talent or treasure. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to be stewards of God’s blessings. And let our giving be done with joy.

The three pillars of Lent are interrelated. In prayer, we will hear the call to fast and give alms as we meditate on the Scriptures. In fasting, our minds will be more alert to God’s voice and we will have new energies to reach out in service. In almsgiving, in our life of stewardship, we will be emulating God’s generosity and expressing our commitment to our call to discipleship experienced through disciplines.

The Leo Frigo Bridge sagged, its pillars giving way. Hopefully our spiritual life will be built on firm foundations and, come Easter, we will have great cause to cry out: “Alleluia!”

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