In the light of the Pope’s Message for Lent, Brother Michal Davide Semeraro, Benedictine monk, “rereads” the three Lenten practices – prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Prayer as openness to transcendence, fasting as “discipline” and almsgiving as an opportunity to understand that “in every woman and in every man is hidden a poor person who is waiting to be discovered”.
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the three Lenten practices. How can their topical relevance be highlighted in contemporary societies where silence and care for others are increasingly less frequent? Prayer, almsgiving and fasting are three timeless practices. They preserve their topical relevance as they do not exclusively belong to the Church, but they are linked to the history of human civilisation. In the men and women of all times an aspect that is related with the deepest meaning of life and reality.
Fasting, for example, is not a form of control and mortification but a critical experience of the needs of our body in order to discern our desires and needs. Through Lenten practices, this form of discernment is expressed in many forms – in food and in our relations with things and with others, in the relationship between body and time.
Prayer is needed by the human person to extend beyond his self-experience and welcome all living experiences encompassing a larger realm that is the horizon of transcendence. Our ability to care for ourselves, to be sensitive to the maze of drives and desires that characterize us, makes us sensitive also to a larger world.
The term ‘almsgiving’ comes from élemos, the Greek word for piety and for balm: it is thus related to compassion and benevolence. These three practices are a form of increased humaneness that the whole of humanity can identify with.
For us Christians, those are the classical forms of Lenten commitment which, rather than repeating, we should renew every year, at the beginning of Lent, with the aim of maturing the care for ourselves and for others.
For Francis, praying means learning to address God with the term “Father”, nourished by the Scriptures and by the language of faith, assimilated with maternal milk, starting from the sign of the Cross. Can the family still be a school of prayer? It can be inasmuch as in addition to teaching to pray the family becomes the place where children are taught to conceive, thus to recognise, that there is another presence in addition to what is visible to the eye. “What is essential is invisible to the eye”, said the Little Prince. Today’s children are bombarded with too many stimuli and families should be able to teach children to see what is invisible to the eye. They must be taught to close their eyes and ears and perceive their inner world as well as the external world.
In his Message for Lent, the Pope invites people to make almsgiving “a way of life”, starting from the concreteness of the other person’s flesh. Whose cry should we be able to listen to?
At Lent, we are called to acknowledge our poverty, our fragility, our vulnerability, as well as the cry we harbour within ourselves as human creatures. If we experience truly, we will be sensitive to all the cries of humanity. In every man and in every woman there is a poor person that is waiting to be discovered. There are also emergencies, our duty of showing solidarity with the poor, but we would not be able to take care for their needs without being constantly sensitive to the poverty that lies inside us and inside every man and woman we meet along the way.
When we speak of almsgiving it isn’t only a gesture to appease our conscience, it is a “hope conspiracy” with everyone.
We all need a balm for our wounds. It is no coincidence that Lent begins with the rite of imposition of the Ashes, when we are reminded that we are dust, that we are nothing. It is not to depress ourselves but to use all our energies and transform them into stardust.
In the era of social media, fasting is not limited to sharing our bread with those who have none, it also means fasting from the media. Can Lent be a stimulus for a “different period” that is less focused on digital noise and more on authentic relations with others? In the past fasting involved the aspect of food because it was a fundamental aspect in everyone’s life.
The Western world no longer has this concern. Fasting means always being sensitive to what enters inside it. It’s true, as Jesus says, that it cannot contaminate us, but it’s also true that it can make us less free, more dependent. We should be aware of everything that enters inside us through our mouth, our eyes, our ears. From this perspective, the term fasting could be translated with the word “discipline”, of which young people in particular no longer know the meaning. Discipline is related to ascesis: our quality of humanity encompasses true self-discipline, if not we would regress to a savage or inhuman stage. Thus Lent can become an opportunity to be pay closer attention to what enters our mouth, our eyes, our ears, in order to gain greater freedom and discernment.