Summary: Prayer leads to an awareness of where we need to change. This awareness then calls for a putting away of negative elements in our behaviour ( we call that fasting). This in turn calls forth a new way of relating to others which is concretely expressed i
Seeds for Sowing, Vol. IV, Issue 3, No. 16
First Sunday of Lent (Year B)
March 12, 2000
Elements of Renewal
There are many things in life that call forth mixed feelings from ourselves. At the same time, we both want to do something and, yet are a bit reluctant to start out on that new road. For instance, starting a different job or going to a new school can bring forth feelings of newness and even excitement, and, at the same time, there can be some fear about our ability to do that job, or to fit into that new school. We have mixed feelings about it all.
It’s not unusual to have that same kind of experience as we begin another Lenten season. We know that this is the time of year when we are asked to look closely at our lives for the purpose of renewing ourselves. When we think of Lent, we probably think of change--change for the better. Today Jesus calls us to repent and believe the good news. Lent is another word for springtime--a time of new growth--new life. And even though we usually want to change, we fear how difficult it may be.
Nature doesn’t seem to have to worry about how to achieve this new growth. It just seems to happen. But with humans it’s quite different. We have to be consciously involved in the change. It won’t just happen on its own. Wouldn’t that be great if it could? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just sit back and wait for Lent to come each year, knowing that we would be automatically renewed? But since that is not the case, how are we to go about this spiritual renewal of ourselves?
Conditions of Renewal
Well there is a tried and tested method--one that has been used for a couple of thousand years. It’s called prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three conditions of renewal are still as valid today as they were centuries ago.
Prayer leads to an awareness of where we need to change. This awareness then calls for a putting away of negative elements in our behaviour ( we call that fasting). This in turn calls forth a new way of relating to others which is concretely expressed in almsgiving. Let’s look briefly at these three stages in our journey of self-renewal.
When we pray, we put ourselves consciously into the presence of the One who knows us in the most intimate possible way. If our prayer is genuine then we will be at our most natural selves when we pray. Why try to hide from God? What would be the point of that? Many of us do spend a lot of time hiding from others, but we know that when it comes to God, any kind of pretense would be useless. It would destroy the very purpose of our prayer--a genuine meeting with God. And since we are at our most natural selves when at prayer, it is then that we have the best chance of really knowing who we are. With nothing to hide, we are able to look at our relationships and our behaviour in a completely honest way.
This ability to see ourselves as we are is certainly a grace from God. When we start to see ourselves this way, then we have a real chance of making some changes. This is where fasting comes in. Fasting does not only mean eating less. It does mean that, but it can mean so much more. Fasting can be giving up any behaviours that are not in keeping with the commandment to love God, neighbour and self.
And so fasting can mean holding our tongue when we are ready to criticize or gossip. It can mean drinking less alcohol or cutting it out altogether if we know it only leads to harm. Fasting can mean less television to make room for more prayer or good reading. Depending on who we are, it can mean spending less time with certain other people and more time by ourselves, or it can mean spending more time with others and less with ourselves. It all depends on what our prayer has revealed to us.
If we see that we have been neglecting family and friends, fasting will call us to remedy that in an appropriate way. However, if we discover that we never take time for our own renewal, then fasting means giving up some of that companionship so that we don’t neglect our own inner life.
After fasting and prayer comes almsgiving. This is an old word that means giving to those in need. This is an essential part of our renewal because such giving is our way of bringing our love to others. When our gift helps someone to be fed and sheltered, we are then joined to them in love. In a world where someone dies of hunger every 3.6 seconds, our gift is absolutely necessary. Perhaps it is even through our fasting from certain foods, drinks, or entertainment that we are more able to give to those in need.