With the arrival of Ash Wednesday, many Catholics are preparing for forty days of sacrifice. But why is that? At a Providence Academy all-upper school gathering last week, Campus Minister Mr. Richard Carrillo defined the purpose of Lent as a time to “help us grow in our relationship with God.”
So how does fasting strengthen one’s relationship with Christ? Providence Academy’s pastor has the answers. Rev. Corey Belden, who is also pastor at Saint Anne’s church in Hamel, explains that fasting, along with prayer and almsgiving, is one of the three pillars of Lent. These were taken right from the Bible. On Ash Wednesday itself, Matthew chapter 6 is read to the congregation where the apostle introduces and teaches these traditions. But in order to help Catholics further understand, Fr. Belden elaborates. “The practice of giving something up during Lent comes from the members of the Church wanting to be in solidarity with those who were in the process of becoming Christians (i.e., preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil). The final period of their preparation is known as “purification and enlightenment” and was an intensive time of sacrifice and fasting.”
Sacrificing something to which one is fondly attached is not only a way to share in Christ’s passion and suffering, but also an opportunity to be in solidarity with Christ. While many choose to give up personal things such as candy, iPods, social media, favorite TV shows, or even the little sibling who has ever so virtuously decided to give up homework or their vegetables, all Catholics, and some Christians, unite in the traditional sacrifice of meat on Fridays. Although for some this may be a difficult item to go without, it also brings together many families. As Fr. Belden said, “A fish fry comes from the fact that Christians have abstained from meat during Friday’s in Lent, and nothing beats a good fish fry!”
Although fasting is a very important part of this liturgical season, there are still two more elements that make up Lent, and they go hand in hand. Prayer is almost always the forgotten thing to do on everyone’s always growing to-do list. Praying at night is impossible because it is always so late and the morning always comes so soon. Praying in the morning doesn’t fit into the daily routine. And that is how sacrificing one thing on one’s list, allows prayer to take its place. “Set realistic time periods when you can spend more time in prayer, especially with the Rosary and the Sacred Scriptures. This is easier when you give up something that may be entertainment-neutral, meaning it isn’t harmful entertainment that keeps you from nourishing your relationship with Jesus.”
Along with prayer, sacrifice also gives everyone a taste of the true blessings and benefits that our world enjoys. And with that gratitude, our eyes are opened to those less fortunate. Almsgiving, volunteering, or practicing charity on a day to day basis, will help strengthen and fulfill one’s journey during this Lenten season. Fr. Belden summed it all up nicely by saying, “All of our Lenten practices ought to lead us more deeply into union with Jesus by increasing in us the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. It is during Lent that we choose to follow Jesus more intensely because we believe that He made atonement for our sins through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Our sacrifices and sufferings, which we may already be experiencing through sickness, help to remind us that we are not created for this world but for Heaven. Finally, flowing from faith and hope, we deepen our love for God because He first showed how much He loved us and we want to share our faith and hope to others by loving them as God loves them.” Happy Lent!