By Henry N Troell II
Are you like me? Does waiting for something drive you crazy?
Waiting is usually something forced upon us. For example, there are times we have to wait in line at school, or to pay for our groceries. Then, there are times where we voluntarily wait for things more exciting such as to surprise a friend, or to see a new movie. When it comes to our faith, the Church calls us to spend the season of Lent waiting for the Good News of the Resurrection which we celebrate on Easter.
Holy Mother Church provides us with some activities to help us grow spiritually while we wait. During Lent, we are called to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. When we enter our teens, we become responsible for these spiritual practices. If we take the time to learn about these practices, waiting for Easter will become easier and our faith will deepen.
Where do we get the tradition of Lent?
The Gospel writers Matthew, Mark and Luke each describe a period of forty days when, following his baptism, Jesus entered the wilderness alone. While in the desert, Jesus spent his time fasting and praying. Each of the Gospel authors use similar words to explain what happens to Jesus in the wilderness. They tell us that Jesus is “tempted” by the devil (cf. Mt. 4:1, Mk. 1:13, Lk. 4:2).
Jesus is truly God while also fully human. Therefore, he is not immune from some of the very same temptations that we experience. Jesus shows us it is possible for humans to resist temptation. Jesus, the Son of God, became man to show us we are never truly alone. In fact, St. Matthew identifies Jesus as “Immanuel” which means “God is with us.” (Mt. 1:23)
Just as Jesus spent forty days in the desert fasting, praying and preparing for his public ministry, we, too, spend the forty days of lent fasting, praying and preparing for the coming of Easter.
In the Gospels, whenever Jesus traveled alone it was usually to find a place to pray. Jesus prays in order to teach us how to pray. In the sixth chapter of Matthew, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray and it is on this occasion that Jesus gives us the “Our Father.”
Jesus begins the prayer by telling us to call God “Our Father” (Mt. 6:9). This was a radical idea because until he spoke those words, the faithful Jews would never consider God as a Father. God was no longer a distant, mysterious deity, but the head of a family. God can now be known in a personal way.
In baptism, God the Father adopts us as his sons and daughters, which makes us brothers and sisters to Jesus! Jesus loves us so much he shares his Father in Heaven with us! Next, we pray that God’s kingdom come to earth and that we do God’s will which means we act in a way that pleases God.
In the middle of the prayer, Jesus tells us to ask for “our daily bread.” While the Isrealites were in the desert, God gave them a special bread called “manna” (Ex. 16:13-30). Just like he fed the Isrealites in the desert with manna, he also feeds us today through the Eucharist.
This Lent, make the decision to grow in prayer. Here are some suggestions:
- Allow the words in your prayer to change. Speak to God as a father and let him know you are ready to hear his plans for your life.
- Make a commitment to learn a traditional prayer like the Act of Faith or the Memorare.
- Invite your family to recite the Holy Rosary together after dinner.
Any act of prayer will increase your ability to see how God provides his special gifts of grace to help you know and love him.
Interestingly, the paragraph following the “Our Father” in Matthew’s Gospel describes the concern Jesus has for how we should fast. Fasting is normally understood as temporarily giving up certain foods as a form of sacrifice and penance. Fasting is not meant to harm us, but rather, to purify us.
We can fast from anything in our lives as a way of offering penance to the Lord. Fasting helps us remove distractions so we can focus on God. Consider the activities that distract you from God and fast from those things. Here are some suggestions:
- Fast from your favorite food or drink.
- Reduce or eliminate the time you spend gaming or watching videos and spend that free time reading Sacred Scripture.
- Reduce or eliminate the time you spend on social media. Delete social media apps from your phone. Instead, listen to a Catholic podcast that teaches about the faith, or read a book about your patron saint.
Finally, the word alms just simply refers to a gift to someone in need. Jesus said whenever we do some act of love especially for those who cannot repay us for that kindness, it is the same as if we did that act for Jesus himself (Mt. 25:40).
One way we can give alms is by doing our chores. Making our bed can be a small, but special gift to our parents. St. Thérèse of Lisieux was a French carmelite nun who lived in the late 1800’s. St. Thérèse would offer little prayers and sacrifices, known as her “little way”, with great love for Jesus. We can follow her example and offer our chores like cleaning our room or washing our clothes as a small sacrifice for the Lord.
To help you grow in almsgiving this Lent, here are some suggestions:
- Find time to visit Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration and give him the gift of your time.
- Look for ways you can give of your time for others. Offer to help your parents around the house with chores.
When we use our prayers, fasting, and almsgiving as a sign of our love for God, waiting for Easter becomes a very holy time of growing in grace and expressing our love for Jesus.
Henry serves as the faith formation coordinator and high school catechist at St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus Catholic Church in Gladewater. He is also a volunteer catechist for the St. Philip Institute of Catechesis and Evangelization. He has a Master’s degree inTheology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Henry and his wife Melissa have been married for 26 years and they have three children: Zach, Alyssa and Jenna.