February 24, 2006

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Living Lent continuously? It’s a joy

The purpose of our traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving can be boiled down to this: They help us to diminish our selfishness and nurture our selflessness.

Prayer can move our hearts and minds away from our own preoccupations and help us focus instead on God.

It can lead us to recognize more and more blessings in our lives, even those things that we might, on first glance, think to be a curse. It can also help us experience in a powerful way that the ultimate source of these blessings is God.

Therefore, prayer can lead us to gratitude for these freely bestowed gifts, things for which we can take no credit.

As broken Lenten resolutions from years past remind us, fasting can be difficult. Why? Because it is our attempt to separate ourselves from those things to which part of us might cling tenaciously, but which our heart knows is not good.

Whether it is overeating, aimlessly surfing the Internet or wasting time in front of the TV, fasting from practices like these may be hard, but it frees us up to give of ourselves more to others.

A primary way that we do show love to others is through almsgiving. Done with the right intention, this Lenten practice embodies selflessness.

It forces us to look at others in love, recognize their needs and seek to meet them through sharing our own material resources.

Looking at these Lenten practices from this perspective might lead us to conclude that we should be doing them year-round and not just during the 40 days before Easter.

Indeed, St. Benedict wrote some 1,500 years ago that “the life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.” Now in writing this, he was not being a killjoy. In fact, he went on to write that a monk’s Lenten practices were to help him “look forward to Easter with joy and spiritual longing.”

What St. Benedict wrote so long ago concerning the lives of monks applies to the lives of Catholic families today.

When we root our families in Christ and, through him, in our Catholic faith, the life of our homes will be a continuous Lent.

Our family prayer—whether it is at Mass, around the dinner table or before going to bed—can become a way for us to continually return to God, give him thanks for the day’s blessings and seek his aid in the challenges of our relationships.

As families, we can fast from those things that separate us, such as frequently listening to Ipods or talking on cell phones when our parents, children or siblings are in the room with us,

And as families, we can give alms by doing good things to those who live close to us: shoveling the driveway of an elderly neighbor or bringing a meal to an infirm person across the street.

All of these suggestions—and so many more that could have been mentioned—might be hard to start. Living with the effects of original sin as we do, moving away from selfishness and toward selflessness will always be a trial.

But when we step forward in faith to do them, God can open our hearts not only to the joy of Easter that comes at the end of our annual observance of Lent, but ultimately to that endless joy that we will experience in the eternal life of heaven.

So consider making the upcoming season of Lent the start of something new and good for your family that won’t come to an end in 40 days but, with the help of God’s grace, will add joy to our days for years to come.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion.) †


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