When we think of Lent, it is likely the image of ashes comes to mind followed closely by the pressing question, “What will I give up?” As we begin this holy season, striving once again to walk more closely in the steps of our Lord, the Church encourages us to embraces the three disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
First we are called to pray as Jesus so beautifully modeled throughout His life on earth. So compelling was his example that the apostles begged, “Lord teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). Routinely conversing with our Heavenly Father deepens our relationship with Him, setting the stage for a grace filled life. Secondly, we are encouraged to fast, a practice that fosters self- control. There are numerous biblical reference of fasting and as we heard in today’s Gospel, the need to resist temptation is inevitable. Fasting rehearses us in self-sacrifice, a life skill often overlooked in today’s society. Finally, almsgiving inspires an outward focus, fostering genuine concern for our neighbor. All three of these practices lead to conversion, a turning back to the One in whose image we are created.
Small changes over time make a big difference. In fact these Lenten practices precipitate a life rooted in the four Cardinal Virtues of prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice. For example, prayer fosters prudence and fortitude. Justice manifests itself in almsgiving. Temperance grows out of fasting and abstinence. Observing these practices or fostering these good habits will yield remarkable results over time.
Much is written concerning habits, both forming and breaking them. In his book “Atomic Habits,” James Clear writes, “The most effective way to change your habits is not to focus on what you want to achieve but who you want to become.” Ultimately, he continues, “your identity emerges out of your habits.” May these 40 days be only the beginning of a lifelong journey to every more closely resembling our true identity in Jesus Christ.
Create in me a clean heart O Lord, a steadfast spirit renew within me. Psalm 51:12
Cathedral Choir Academy Director