So, we are three full weeks into Lent. How are you doing? What if I told you that,
as part of my Lenten practices, I wanted to write once a week to encourage you through your Lenten journey. As this is my first post this Lent, would you get the clue how my Lent is going?
It just goes to show you that when we have good intentions, Satan (and really, sometimes, just life) will throw things at you to make it difficult. Don't give up! Struggle on!
Prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Of the three, I tend to think almsgiving is the easiest. Of course, if I feel that way, perhaps I am not giving enough. After all, Our Lord praises not the rich who gave out of their excess but the poor widow who gave all she had to give (see Mark 12:41-44). Often, I tie my almsgiving with my fasting. Foregoing eating out, stopping at my favorite coffee shops or grabbing a treat at the local ice cream parlor, I add up the money I would have spent and donate it to a charitable organization. Have I, then, really given out of my need or just my excess? Mother Teresa was fond of encouraging us to "give until it hurts."
Finding extra time for prayer seems nearly impossible many days. Then, I realized how much time I spend in the car. If I put on a rosary podcast instead of the radio (yea, I'm old fashion and still listen to the radio), I can pray a rosary most weekdays. Or, instead of listening to my music when I walk or exercise, if I pray the rosary, my work-out not only goes faster, but also becomes more enjoyable, believe it or not! It is possible to pray more. As a matter of fact, St. Paul tells us to pray constantly (cf. 1Thessalonians 5:16). Lent is the perfect time to practice praying always.
Fasting, though, is the most difficult for me and the one I desire most to be able to master. By controlling what goes into my mouth, I hope to be able to better control what comes out of it! While it seems like it would be a simple thing to abstain from between meal snacks or seconds at the dinner table, I often find myself fighting the urges and prodding of my stomach and mind telling me I am hunger when really, I'm not.
I take consolation from St. Zelie Martin, the mother of St. Therese. In a letter to a friend, she wrote, "We are in the full period of penance. Fortunately, it will soon be over, for I suffer so much from fasting and abstinence. It is not, however, a hard mortification, but I feel my stomach so weak, and especially I feel so cowardly that if I listened to myself, I would not want to do anything at all." Knowing that the saints struggled and yet still became saints gives me hope.
Fasting does not necessarily have to be from food. Some of my friends fast from social media, while others fast from television, Netflix, YouTube, and the like. Anything that seems to master us is a good thing to take control of by fasting from it. Thus, we develop the virtue of temperance through self-control. It is not always easy or pleasant; however, if we learn to say no to the little things, then saying no to the bigger things in life that may lead us astray will be easier. Thus, do we hope to hear our True Master say to us, "Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters. I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy" (Matthew 25:23).
So, whatever your Lenten practice is this year and no matter how well you are doing it, continue to strive to conquer - to give until it hurts, to pray constantly, and to fast faithfully. In another letter, to her daughter Pauline who had entered the convent, Saint Zelie wrote, "Only 21 days more, but 21 days that pass slowly, for we must carry out our Lenten regulations. It is so tiring!" I feel ya, Zelie! Yet, we carry on, following Christ, bearing the cross, learning to become saints.