By Deacon Charles Rohrbacher
Lent is above all else, a season of conversion. Now is the acceptable time to turn to enter more profoundly into the paschal mystery of the saving death and life-giving resurrection of Jesus.
This turning to the Crucified and Risen Lord is an opportunity to practice the Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Each of these three practices, with God’s help and our sincere desire to grow closer to the Lord, enable us to break free of the inclination to retreat into ourselves and to be indifferent to the suffering and needs of our neighbors.
Lent is the time when the Church goes on retreat, in imitation of Jesus, who, following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, went out into the desert for forty days and nights to be with the Father. A retreat is a time to step away from our routines and responsibilities so that we can grow closer to the Lord. We do this by lifting our hearts and minds to God in prayer, through self-denial and charity towards those in need.
It is particularly a time to make solitude, silence and personal prayer a priority, especially because it is so easy for interior solitude, silence and prayer to be crowded out of our busy, noisy and distracted lives as family members and parents.
Lent is not a time for ‘business as usual.’ Instead, it is a graced time to discover (or rediscover) a more centered, interior way of living in Christ.
While in the desert, Jesus fasted. He fasted from food and from anything that might distract him from prayer. Fasting is probably the quickest way to realize how much our day to day contentment rests in having our needs and wants met, either by food, drink, entertainment or other preoccupations. By fasting, we create space in our lives to recognize our deeper spiritual hunger, which can only be satisfied by God.
Fasting, especially from food, is an essential discipline of conversion because, by fasting, we are brought into solidarity with Christ, who identifies himself completely with the poor and the hungry. It is a concrete, practical way of living out Christ’s invitation to “deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.”
Our ancient tradition always links prayer and fasting with almsgiving. In his Lenten letter, Pope Francis teaches us that, “Putting the paschal mystery at the center of our lives means feeling compassion towards the wounds of the crucified Christ present in the many innocent victims of wars, in attacks on life, from that of the unborn to that of the elderly, and various forms of violence.”
The resources saved from eating less and more simply, from abstaining from meat and other normal activities and entertainments, are resources freed up for the poor. Lent offers us the opportunity to live and give sacrificially, to intensify our practice of the corporal works of mercy.
Jesus teaches us that we will be judged on the last day on one standard: did we see and respond with generosity and love to those in need around us? Almsgiving is the very crucible of conversion, where the change of heart and mind that Jesus preached becomes real and concrete in our lives.
Generosity towards the poor (in countless ways) has always been the hallmark of authentic Christian living.
Here in the United States, the Church proposes a practical way for children, parents and families to renew their practice of prayer, fasting and almsgiving: CRS Rice Bowl. A program of Catholic Relief Services since 1975, Rice Bowl provides our families with a simple but effective way to practice the disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving every day throughout Lent.
During Lent, the cardboard ‘rice bowl’ sits on the dining room table and the savings from abstaining from meat and eating simpler meals go in the ‘rice bowl.’ The rice bowl comes with a Home Calendar Guide that provides families with an opportunity to learn about the lives, challenges, hopes and dreams of three middle school-age girls from Honduras, Kenya and Vietnam living in poverty. It also includes ways to pray daily for the needs of the poor. There is information on the work of CRS and its partners in other countries, as well as meatless recipes from the countries features.
Lent is also when the Church in the United States takes up the annual collection in support of Catholic Relief Services. Throughout the country, on the Fourth Sunday of Lent (March 22nd), this collection is taken up to support the work of CRS in over 100 countries. CRS does both relief and development work.
CRS provides emergency response to natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, droughts and famines, as well as to man-made disasters resulting from war and climate change, such as the movement and resettlement of refugees due to war and violence and population displacement due to rising sea levels and severe storms and flooding due to global warming and climate change.
CRS also supports long-term projects in agriculture, education, economic development and public health to help families living in material poverty to have better lives for themselves and their children.
On behalf of all those you assist in the name of Christ, thank you for your generosity as you contribute to the CRS annual collection and participate in CRS Rice.