Traditionally, the practices of the season of Lent have been prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Prayer, the lifting of our mind and heart to God, has taken on various forms throughout the centuries – from novenas, rosaries, and the divine office, to meditation, charismatic and contemplative prayer. All these ways of praying are life-giving, since we often need or use different styles of prayer at different times in our lives. It is ours to choose what is life-giving; the BVM community encourages us to adapt our prayer to our present reality.
Fasting in the early practice of the church was seen as limiting the intake of food or drink. As time has gone on, it has been found that physical fasting is a very healthy exercise; however, there are people who because of their physical make-up or their job, cannot fast. In the 1870s, Mary Frances Clarke, our BVM Foundress, counseled a superior not to require a fast of the Sisters since they were expending great energy teaching all day. She suggested that perhaps the Sisters should just take a little less recreation at night. Her words of advice could be reversed nowadays. She might be telling us to put down our cell phones and converse during mealtime and to limit our use of computers.
Almsgiving is associated with a monetary offering to people in need. We see this in the early church in the Acts of the Apostles (10:2) when Cornelius is credited with liberally giving alms. Jesus talks about giving away (Lk 3:11) a coat if a person has two, and giving food to those in need. Nowadays, the BVM community directs our thoughts to the many disasters of earthquakes, floods and fires, advising us to send our contributions to a common fund. We are inspired by the projects throughout the world of other religious communities, who tell us of their ministries to feed the hungry or provide education; BVMs support them in their efforts. Sometimes as we age or develop infirmities we are unable to directly assist others who are suffering, but through our almsgiving we can participate in providing for others’ needs.
The ancient Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, adapted to our present condition, continue to help us to live the message of Jesus during the season of Lent and in our daily lives.