SEASON OF LENT
SEASON OF LENT
(Dear reader, before entering into this reflection on the ‘Season of Lent’, kindly read slowly by yourself, the Gospel of St.Mathew, 06:01-08)
For a Jew, Almsgiving, Prayer and Fasting were cardinal works of religious life. They were the 3 pillars on which good life was based. And Jesus did not dispute that. But what put Jesus into discomfort was, that in life, the finest things/priorities were done from wrong motives. He warned that those three religious practices were done with the intention of bringing glory to the self: demonstrating one’s generosity in Almsgiving, demonstrating one’s piety in Prayer and demonstrating one’s self-discipline in Fasting. As a result, the reward was to win praises/attention from/of the people. But Jesus was talking about the Reward from God. Hence he warned his disciples: ‘You are not to be like them (Pharisees)’ (8).
I invite you, dear reader, to reflect along with me about the three great and meaningful ways to live through the Season of Lent.
- Almsgiving: It just simply means, giving. It is a giving without expecting anything in return. It involves a deep sense of Sacrifice and Sharing in a spirit of generosity. We give what we have. We give because we have received. We receive because we have given! We have many in abundance, some in lesser ‘quantity’, perhaps. But we are invited to share.
-a smile to the one who is feeling unhappy.
-a casual or an organized visit to the lonely.
-a helping hand to the one who is in need of help.
-deciding to be patient to the one who is provoking anger in you.
-sharing organizational skills where and when they are needed.
-establishing and helping establish relationships.
List can be long….but in all these, no strings attached!
Almsgiving also could mean, trying to remove what is lacking in others. e.g. a poor person may be lacking basic requirements: food, shelter, clothing, education. Take some steps; make some arrangements to remove the ‘lackings’ in him/her. It further means, to acquire the attitude, mind and heart to be sensitive to the needs of others.
- Prayer: The Jews prayed five times a day: 05.00am, 09.00am, 12.00noon, 15.00pm and 17.00pm. All these timings were business hours, except perhaps, 05.00am! The Pharisees loved to pray at these business hours, and that too, in the market places. Why? so that people could see them pray! For them Prayer was a demonstration of piety. And the reward was a ‘certificate’ from the people that the Pharisees were faithful to the tradition!
But Jesus warned his disciples (in this Gospel passage) not to follow their way of praying. Not in public places but in ‘closed door’ (6). It means that we enter into our inner-self, the deepest of our self: heart.
We do not pray in order to get praises or appreciation or reward from others and be noticed by others. Rather we Pray to God, speak to God in silence, in secret, in order to get Reward from God. It is in sound of silence, echo of silence that we Pray to God.
I am sure Jesus is not talking about group prayer or family prayer, but private prayer. We need to cultivate the need for private prayer, for it strengthens us, consoles us, directs us, motivates us, clarifies for us, inspires us…We do need private prayer.
- Fasting: The Pharisees loved to exhibit their ‘fasting-faces’ in public in order to be noticed and praised by people: ‘see how well-disciplined they are’!
Virtually every major religion in the world talks about fasting. Generally, it means to acquire a sense of purity of body and soul in our relationship with God and others.
In the Bible, Fasting is undertaken by individuals as well as groups, as a preparation for an important work or event. Moses fasted for 40 days as a preparation for the liberative work of God. People of Israel fasted for 40 days as a preparation for the Paschal Feast. Jesus fasted for 40 days before he began his public ministry. We fast for 40 days during the Season of Lent as a preparation for the Celebration of Easter.
Fasting could mean, Sacrifice, giving-up. It is a decision. A voluntary-choice. We choose to do good; choose to be good; choose to forgive; choose to be patient; choose not to act upon our anger; choose to be merciful and compassionate; choose to respect others; Yes, fasting is a conscientious choice by an individual. And he/she owns it by doing it.
It is this series of ‘good choices and decisions’ that enrich our Lenten Observances.
Lest we forget…Fasting is always understood in the context of the poor, the widow and the orphans. The fruits of our Fasting should reach these groups and those with whom we live. Otherwise, it becomes a fruitless and meaningless exercise/observance. Thus our fasting uplifts the other and glorifies God who rewards us.
During this Season of Lent, let us learn the art of giving and sharing, be sensitive to the needs of others by our Almsgiving, take more time off from our daily schedule in order to be in Silent Prayer and finally, let us work out a list of ‘good choices and decisions’ with regard to Fasting. May we have a meaningful and fruitful Season of Lent.
Daniel Jeya Singh C.Ss.R