As we turn the calendar to the month of March, we also begin a new liturgical season: Lent. The tried and true, “big and broad” practices of almsgiving, prayer and fasting, in a sense, give us the strength in our battle against the “desire of flesh, the desire of the eyes and the pride in riches.” (1 Jn. 2:16)
These three “spiritual strengths” are the classical antidote to temptations. You might be wondering, “How is that?”
In the book, “Spiritual Warfare: Fighting the Good Fight,” Father Vivian Boland writes, “Fasting and other disciplines of self-denial help us to manage the desires of the flesh in ways that are appropriate to our true needs as well as our commitments and relationships. Almsgiving and other practices of charity and justice-making help us to manage our relationships with others, our standing in the world and our evaluation of what is important in regard to possessions, reputation and achievement. Prayer and other acts of the virtue of religion – adoration, devotion and sacrifice – sustain our relationship with God and help us appreciate that in God ‘we live, move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:28)”
In a sense, these three spiritual activities in which we engage during Lent are three weapons as we fight against the Devil and the temptations that he brings to us. You see, fasting or the avoidance of some food or drink opens us up to a deeper concentration and meditation, reminding us of the needs of others and acknowledging the gifts that God has given to us. This opens our hearts to others.
Almsgiving should never be about us or how “great” we are because we give to someone who is lacking. It’s about sharing the gifts that God has given us. Gifts are to be shared. However, there is a natural tendency within every person to hoard and covet because of “my need.” Prayer is the Christian antidote to the pride of life, since we acknowledge our need of God. “To submit our life to God in prayer is neither humiliating nor cowardly: it is simply truthful and spiritually healthy.”1
Some time ago, I came across a reading from the Book of Ephesians (6: 11-18) which states: “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
As you stepped up to receive the ashes on Ash Wednesday, you received, in a sense, the first sign with which you enter the battle of Lent with an open heart and a willing spirit.
Consider this remark that Pope Benedict XVI said during a homily when he started his ministry as pope. He said, “Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? … No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. … Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.”2
So, let the battle begin! I can do all things with Him who gives me strength!
1 Boland, Fr. Vivian. Spiritual Warfare: Fighting the Good Fight, 2007. San Francisco: Catholic Truth Society, p.12-17.
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, The Catholic Witness