Edvard Munch, The Sick Child (1896 version)
You might say that the season of Lent is when the Church as our spiritual mother tells us her children that we are unwell. We are sick not with the flu or the mumps or the coronavirus, but something even deeper and more dire – the sickness of sin. That is why we mark ourselves with ashes at the start of this season – to remember our own mortality, but even more to signify our humble sorrow for our sins and our willingness to turn back to God.
Fortunately, we don’t do so alone. The Church as our mother can tell when we are sick, and the Church as our mother knows just what we need to get well. The cure for spiritual sickness is grace, and the Church recommends three powerful tools each Lent that help us to receive God’s grace: prayer, fasting, and giving alms. It’s not a coincidence that Jesus recommends just these three things in today’s Gospel. They are what he calls “righteous deeds”, that is, good works – things that are good in themselves, that accomplish good, but also which make us good as well.
As we begin this holy season, we each should consider at least some small way to take up these practices anew. Some new practice of prayer, more or different than we’ve done before, will help to bring us closer to God each day. Some form of fasting will help us not be so attached to our earthly desires; at a minimum, we should do what the Church requires on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the Fridays of Lent, but perhaps we could also consider some other way of giving up something we enjoy in order to focus more on our desire for God. And finally, we should give alms – we should share of our money and material goods with those who are in need, so that our good works don’t just benefit us but also those closest to God’s heart. If we want a fruitful Lent, we should take up these practices some way, as individuals, as families, and as a Church as a whole.
Friends, the Church, our mother, knows what is best for us. So let’s use well these holy days of Lent that she has provided so that by the spiritual medicines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we may healed anew of our spiritual ailments and be made strong and ready for the celebrations of Easter.