Editor’s note: During Lent The Compass is offering a series, “Ways to Jump Start Your Faith.” Local columnists draw on their experiences to offer ways for everyday Catholics to more fully experience the penitential season of Lent. This week’s column is by Sr. Marla Clercx, ANG.
I remember celebrating Lent as a child. I took the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving so seriously. Each year I gave up candy, had my mission folder with a slot for each day’s dime, and my list of daily prayers. You couldn’t have forced me to cheat on any of the three. As an adult, I sometimes wish I had the strength of my childhood commitment.
This is one of the reasons why I am grateful for our liturgical year and the annual season of Lent. It gives another chance to try a little harder, focus a little more, and perhaps come a little closer to getting it right. In my attempt each year to take Lent seriously, here is what I have found:
To me, there are two ways to look at the disciplines of Lent. One is to start with prayer as the basis for the 40 days. The other is to start with fasting. In recent years, I have chosen to begin with fasting, not because I do not feel prayer is important, but because I have forgotten that fasting is. We can have a difficult time saying “no” to ourselves (consumerism, technology, food and drink, habits). We might even develop the mentality, “No one is going to tell me what to do.” And yet, saying no to ourselves helps us say a deeper “yes” to God and to others.
Fasting might just give us more time for prayer and aid us in our focus. Fasting may find us with more time and money to reach out to others. Fasting increases our concern for our brothers and sisters who do not live as abundantly as we do. Saying no to myself can be hard. I am hungry now. I want to buy those clothes. I would like to see that movie. And yet, if we take the focus of fasting off of ourselves, and offer it for a reason beyond us, it becomes greater than us. We offer our hungers for the poor, for peace, for healing within our families, for something beyond ourselves.
This is where prayer helps. Without a focus through prayer, we’re not fasting, we’re just hungry or left wanting. Prayer helps us believe that in the end, fasting always changes us — even if what we fast for doesn’t change.
When talking about fasting with a friend of mine, she often says she’d rather add something on than give something up. I agree. We are called to add something(s) on, which is where prayer and generosity come in.
A favorite prayer remains the evening examination of conscience. I once read the idea of combining the examen with prayer to the Trinity. We look back on our day, with all of the gifts it held and all of its blessed moments and thank God our Creator. We look at those things that we didn’t do well or wish we could have done differently and ask the Son to forgive us. We look to tomorrow and pray to the Holy Spirit to give us the gifts we will need for the day.
Through prayer and fasting, we are moved to share. I’d rather use the word “generosity” in place of almsgiving or sharing. I have discovered if someone asks if I share or give alms, I easily say yes. When asked if I am generous, a deeper soul searching takes place. Now I need to look at whether or not I am giving all that I can. Lent invites us to a deep generosity.
At the end of the guidelines for the three disciplines of Lent, it reminds us: The faithful are not to take these lightly. Friends, let us move into these days of Lent with resolve, asking God to help us fast, pray and be generous.
Sr. Marla is pastoral leader at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Green Bay.