FJN.jpgPrayer, penance and charity. Friar Joseph Nasanathan, ofm, explains that the church reminds us to observe these practices every year for a good reason.

AT ASH WEDNESDAY we begin the journey of Lent, a journey each year when we, through the imposition of ashes, are called to commit ourselves and examine our discipleship to the Lord.

This discipleship, committed at baptism, is to walk the road (the Way of the Cross) to paradise (living in the Kingdom of God now and forever). It is for this reason that Lent leads us to Easter - the struggle and pain of the cross (the pain of love) leads us to glory in the resurrection (life-giving and life fulfilling).

At Lent, we are called by the church to examine the three areas of prayer, penance and charity. Why these areas? These three areas are the pillars for true discipleship with the Lord. Like a relationship with someone we deeply love, unless there is constant communication (prayer), self sacrifice for the person we love (penance) and giving of our gifts/talents and time (charity) to the person we love, there can be no authentic relationship.

We know these are the qualities necessary for a healthy, life-giving, loving and committed relationship (Christian or not). We also know it can be demanding and sometimes a real struggle because of our human weaknesses, yet we strive to live this because we truly love the person or the people.

Now you know why deeply committed couples or families often sit together and talk things over if they are drifting from these realities of love. This is also the reason why at Lent, every year, we are asked the same questions and called to make a serious commitment to examine ourselves, "because we love our Lord dearly and truly". Let us examine these three areas: prayer, penance and charity.

The scriptural text for these comes from the Ash Wednesday Gospel reading taken from Mt 6:1-18. Each year the church uses this same text to remind us of the universal call for examination as individual members of its body the church. So the call to examine ourselves is both personal and communal.

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Prayer

During Lent the church encourages its faithful to make that special effort to spend quality time in prayer as individuals, family and as a community. The faithful are encouraged to do the holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament.

Mt 6:6 asked of us to pray "in the private space between you and God and your Father who see all that is done in such quality time will reward you". Personal prayers can also be done at home in the private space of our room. Such quality time in prayer during Lent strengthens our desire for prayer as a way of Christian life, as communication is for a healthy relationship.

The church also encourages the prayer of the Stations of the Cross (meditation on the way of the Cross, to help us in our struggle on the way of our own cross). We can do this prayer individually or as a family at any time or day of the week; either in the home or work place, etc. The church usually does this prayer as community on a Friday.

Some people make a special effort to go for the weekday Masses during Lent. Most importantly ask yourself what quality prayer time you would like to give the Lord this Lent because you love him and want to be with him.

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Penance

Christian penance helps us to understand the richness of love. Love without sacrifice is not truly love because true love is sacrificial in nature. Ask any parents how they love their children and they will share without any doubt how much they need to make sacrifices for their children because they love them. The same goes for couples who are deeply in love.

Without willingness to make sacrifices for each other there can be no true and authentic love shared. Lent challenges us to examine the Christian sacrifice we make because we love the Lord dearly and deeply. The church calls us to make a communal fast (only twice a year, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) as penance to feel the pangs of hunger to identify with the millions who go hungry every day.

Fast and give the money for your food to some of these hungry mouths that suffer everyday. During Lent some try to fast every Friday on a personal intention, others might do it other days during the week. Penance is not just about food, whether fasting or abstinence from meat. It is a call to sacrifice anything that deprive us of things that we like most or are addicted to for the love of God and his people.

Sometimes these Lenten penances can be reflected within the family. Children make a special effort to do things around the home for the love of their maid or parents. Parents make a special effort to be with their children, sacrificing their leisure. I know of people who make a special effort to stop smoking during Lent because they love God's people and the planet and do not want to contribute to the already damaging pollution.

Pray and ask yourself honestly what sacrifice you would like to make this Lent because you love God and his people.

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Charity

Christian charity is giving what we have received from the generosity of our God. Christian charity is practising good stewardship of what we know and acknowledging that everything I have belongs to God: my health, my time, my possessions, my savings, my talents, my leisure, etc.

In Mt 6:1-4, Jesus says your almsgiving must be done in such a way that it does not say you are giving but you are sharing what belongs to God that is in your possession with those you are asked by God in Christian conscience to give to. Christian charity develops in us a sense of detachment from what I own or what belongs to me to a sense of attachment to what I love most, God and my family and his people. During Lent the church invites us to participate in charity projects that help us develop this sense of detachment by generously giving to those in need.

Last weekend the Catholic Church made its appeal for the needy under the care of the Catholic Welfare Society. The charity envelops were given out at all Masses. Let us give until it hurts. I remember a parishioner who called me last year at Lent to offer some food to the poor. When they were brought to me I realised the canned food were all past their expiry dates. This is not giving, this is getting rid of things we don't want! It is also an insult to the poor and to God.

Give whatever money, things, and food, etc, out of love for God's people and feel the pain of detachment and the joy of attachment to God, your family and God's people. Ask yourself this Lent what you would like to give away to develop this sense of love for God and his people?

Finally all these three areas that the church calls us to examine during Lent develop in us a sense of change in our mind, heart and attitude towards God and others. This is what we call conversion. Every Lent brings us this conversion that leads us to grow deeper in our love for God and his people.

Now you see why we need to look again at these questions every year; it is because we want to grow deeper in our discipleship with the Risen Lord.

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