Sunday, March 13, 2011

Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving

At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, you shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”

Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, "All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written:
The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”

Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
(Matthew 4:1-11)

On Wednesday we began the season of Lent which is our preparation for the Easter celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Excluding Sundays it is a season of forty days, in imitation of Jesus spending forty days in the desert. Jesus fasted in the desert, and overcame the devil’s temptations. Jesus never sinned but in the desert he was tempted, and during these forty days of Lent we remember Jesus in the desert as we try to overcome temptation in our lives and to overcome sinfulness. There is practically no hiding place or shelter in the desert and the difficulties of the desert make whatever is inside a person come to the surface. The desert tests and shows up a person as he/she is. Lent is an invitation to us to take the courageous step of “going into the desert” and not hiding from what lies hidden deep within us. Lent is a time to put our souls before a mirror and see ourselves as we really are. Lent is an invitation to allow our sin and darkness and wounds come to the surface so that we can deal with them and allow them to be healed by the grace of Jesus. During these forty days of Lent, let us not hide from our sinfulness or prevent God speaking to us or healing us during this Lent. It is only when we admit something that we can deal with it. The first stage in overcoming anything is to admit the problem. If we remain in denial we miss out on the grace of God to heal us and renew us and make us whole. What is the favorite or most prevalent sin that we keep committing? Let us say no to the devil’s temptations to continue committing that sin, and instead let us trust in our heavenly Father like Jesus in the desert. The words of Jesus can be our words this Lent, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4) Lent is not only about helping others, about doing something, it is also very much about the type of person we are.

Since the early centuries the Church has suggested three things that we undertake during Lent - prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is for this reason that the Gospel text for Ash Wednesday every year is Jesus’ advice on prayer, fasting and almsgiving (Matt 6:1-6, 16-18). During Lent let us pray more, fast and help the poor.

For almsgiving or helping the poor, the Church makes it easy for us by giving us the opportunity to contribute to Catholic aid agencies. Helping the poor during Lent brings the words of Jesus to mind, “Whatever you did to one of the least of these you did to me.” (Matt 25:45)

Fasting is another task the Church encourages us to undertake during Lent. From the spiritual point of view, fasting symbolizes our dependence on God. It expresses the fact that we really are trying to put God first in our life. The Bible tells us that fasting from food must go together with fasting from violence and fasting from oppressing people (Isa 58:3-12). In other words, when we fast from food it is to be accompanied by a loving and forgiving attitude towards others. We could say that fasting from food in itself is not what is important, it is what the fasting symbolizes that really matters. So to fast in a way that is genuinely pleasing to God, can we make an effort to forgive those who have hurt us and not harbor resentment any longer? Why do we need to keep up grudges? Is it merely because we like to be in control? Perhaps to forgive, we also need to give up our need to dominate and control others. If we have a problem forgiving someone, let us share it with the Lord and ask his help and grace so that we may forgive. While we may not forget we certainly do not want to live being dominated by past wounds. We want to live in the present free of the past.

Lent is also a time for more prayer. We live busy lives and there is much emphasis on enjoying life but a life without prayer is a life without the joy of the presence of God. If we do not pray we are not Christians at full potential; we are only walking when we could be flying. Martha was busy serving when Jesus came but Mary spent time with him and Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42) Lent is not only about helping others and doing something, it is also very much about the type of person that we are. Let us pray more because all goodness comes from God and when we pray we touch God. There is a difference between a do-gooder and a Christian. A Christian is a do-gooder who also prays. God is our loving Father who greatly desires us to allow him close to us, so let us pray more this Lent and experience more of the joy of know God our Father.

The word “Lent” is an old English word which means “springtime.” May this Lent really be a new springtime in the lives of each of us. Through prayer, through fasting from food accompanied by forgiving others and not bearing grudges, and through donating from our surplus to help the poor, may we like Jesus in the desert for forty days overcome temptation and thus be well prepared to celebrate Easter.

Peace and Love,

Reverend Sue

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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