Alms, Fasting and Prayer Are Pillars of Hope
By Bishop David J. Malloy
We hear each year about the basic elements of Lenten penance. Jesus Himself told His followers about them. The Gospel of Matthew records that Jesus told them to give alms, to pray and to fast. (Mt.6:1-18).
Since we are nearing the halfway point of Lent, we do well to ask how we have taken to heart Jesus’s commands as part of our penance. But we should also reflect on the way in which each of those three pillars is a source of hope for us as we live our faith.
Of those three elements, Jesus begins by saying, “When you give alms …” To give alms means, in one form or another, to give to the poor. Jesus puts that spiritual practice first. In the poor we are to see Jesus Himself. “… Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Mt. 25:40).
Of course during Lent we should seek to find a way to give to the poor or to the Church that is special, going beyond our normal contributions. That may cut into our financial cushion or it may require us to restrict some element of our lifestyle. But the hope this brings is that as an offering for our sins we seek to serve Jesus Himself in the needy. And if it tightens our belt even a little, that is a moment to recall that we really do have the hope that comes from trusting that God, not our own earthly possessions, will take care of us.
Jesus then says to His disciples, “When you pray …” (Mt. 6:5). Even though this is not the first of Jesus’s commands in this discourse, we know that prayer cannot be separated from acts of penance or charity such as giving alms. All of our penance must be rooted in prayer.
Jesus counsels us to go to a private place and to pray to the Father using few words. During Lent when we mourn the sins we have committed and we seek to convert our hearts and our conduct, we are ultimately seeking to be closer to our Father in heaven. It is natural that we should pray to the Father seeking the grace and to offer Him our love.
The hope, in this instance, comes from our confidence as children of that loving Father. He will not close His ears or turn away. Like the prodigal son, He allows us to be free. But if we turn to Him again, He will always forgive and take us back.
Jesus final admonition begins, “When you fast …” (Mt 6:15). In our time of historically unheard-of material abundance, including the availability of food, fasting has largely slipped away. During Lent, we need to find times or moments to challenge that bodily appetite. In doing so, we offer the weakness of our bodies to God, recognizing He gives us what we need. At the same time, fasting connects us with the poor and the hungry.
Our hope in this case is the spiritual reminder that comes from fasting. In this life, each day we seek our daily bread. Without it, we will die. In the world to come God will take us to Himself. He will wipe away all tears and stress and even the hungers of our body.
We offer alms, pray and fast during Lent in sorrow and reparation for our sins. Please don’t forget, however, that Jesus entrusted to the Church the power to forgive sins. That is the sacrament of confession. Make sure, then, that you make a good Lenten confession.
As usual, in the Diocese of Rockford we will celebrate Be Reconciled Day on Wednesday, April 6. On that day, all of our parishes will be hearing confessions from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Please check your parish bulletin for more specific details.
We are nearly halfway home with Lent now. It’s time to finish strong by offering alms, prayers and fasting.