If my watch works with my phone’s Activity app, perhaps I can use today’s column as a “Lenten Activity” app. Of course I cannot program this app to give you personalized reminders, but I can use it to ask the question: How is your Lent going so far? And since my watch app sets three specific goals for me (so many minutes of exercise, so many calories burned and so many hours with at least a bit of standing and moving about), I can use main “goals” for our Lenten app. So how is your Lent going in terms of prayer, fasting and almsgiving?
Prayer reminds us that Lent is supposed to bring us closer to God. Yet prayer is something that can easily get crowded out of our busy day. When we take on our daily tasks by ourselves, we put more pressure on ourselves. If we take time with God, we learn to rely on Him more completely, and we actually become more efficient and can handle unexpected turns in our day with more patience. Are we taking more time for prayer during this Lenten season?
Fasting is the most common penance of this season. We all grew up with the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” The word “fasting” makes us think of food, and our fasting is frequently centered on food and drink. But fasting can mean abstaining from anything that gets in the way of following God with our whole heart, even if it is an innocent distraction from the day. And if we give up something that takes a certain amount of time (television, for instance), then that becomes time that we have for prayer.
Once we see prayer and fasting as key parts of Lent, we become more open to the needs of those around us. Almsgiving is the third key point of this season. The word makes us think of giving money to the poor. We can just as easily give alms by giving time to a lonely widow who needs to talk, or by giving of our talents to someone who can use our help.
I frequently speak these penances in the beginning of Lent. But as my watch teaches me, we sometimes need a reminder as we go along. So let me say a word to those who may now realize that they have not kept their Lenten resolutions as well as they had hoped. It is good if you have not kept your promises perfectly, and not just because “misery loves company.” I tell people that if we keep our Lenten observances all through the season, with no stumbles, that means we have chosen something too easy. If we find it difficult, then we are challenging ourselves to be better. So if we find some area where we have fallen short this Lent, we can remind ourselves that there are still a couple of weeks left in this season. You can, as the old song says, “pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.”