Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Monday, February 26, 2007

Faith Seeking Understanding for February 25, 2007

This weekend we celebrate the first Sunday of Lent, the great season of penance and conversion that prepares the entire Church to celebrate the solemn feast of Easter. The traditional elements of Lenten penance are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We can imagine these three practices to be just like the legs of a stool; if one leg is missing, the stool topples. In the same way, our Lenten preparations will collapse if we do not practice all three.

Prayer is the essential foundation of the spiritual life. Without a rich prayer life, we cannot know God’s will in our life, nor can we fulfill it. Our sufferings become unbearable because they are not united in our wills to the sufferings of Christ; our joys become hollow because they are separated from the Creator of all good things. How do we pray? Prayer is a gift from God, yet it is also a discipline that we exercise. Lent provides an excellent opportunity to strengthen this discipline.

The Liturgy of the Hours or Christian Prayer is an excellent method to pray with the Church through the season of Lent. These are the prayers required for priests and religious brothers and sisters; the laity have been encouraged since the Second Vatican Council to join these prayers, and include this aspect of prayer in their own lives. Principally, the Liturgy of the Hours prays through the book of Psalms in the course of four weeks. It also provides a structure to pray in the morning, mid-day, and evening, giving a context for God to work through the busy-ness of our daily lives.

Even if we don’t pray with the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, other devotional prayers, or novenas can add a particular sweetness to our Lenten discipline, because we encounter Christ each time we open our hearts in prayer. Litanies, particularly of the Saints, the Blessed Mother, or the Sacred Heart also offer an excellent experience of coming to know Christ and the Saints through disciplined prayer. Above all, however, prayer must be regular and planned. By struggling through the difficult and challenging times in prayer and overcoming distractions, we discipline our wills to receive an abundance of grace.

Fasting without prayer is a futile exercise. We may discipline our appetites to some extent, but for what purpose? Joined to prayer, however, fasting becomes a powerful tool to help us overcome all the capital sins: pride, envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, lust, and anger. Furthermore, we see our own problems and sufferings in the light of the Cross, which invests them with deeper meaning and purpose. Because we have chosen to suffer voluntarily something small, such as hunger, or the desire for a favorite game, pastime, entertainment, or food, we are better able to endure sufferings that we do not choose. The goal of the spiritual life is conformity to the Cross of Christ.

Finally, we might see in almsgiving a particular “proof” of the effectiveness of Lent. Charity is the measure of our growth in holiness; if, therefore, we were to pray for seven hours a day and eat only a piece of bread and a cup of water each day throughout Lent, and yet not have generous hearts to provide for the needs of the poor and afflicted, our efforts are in vain. Prayer and Fasting are gifts from God to expand our hearts and allow them to be pierced by the soldier’s lance, so that we might, in imitation of our Lord, also pour forth our own lives in loving service.

Almsgiving is also an expression of sacrifice – setting apart as holy – because we take from what we might need in order to generously provide for those who are in great need. Prayerful consideration of how to give alms throughout Lent is an essential aspect of our spiritual lives as well. Do not neglect the “alms” of time spent together with family and friends, particularly those who are most alone. Often this expression of our charity can be much more difficult than writing a check.

May God richly bless your Lenten penances and bring us all to the joys of Easter!