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Lenten reflection for Ash Wednesday: Almsgiving, prayer and fasting as God loves them

Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

On the liturgical calendar, Ash Wednesday marks the start of the Lenten season, the 47-day period leading up to the commemoration of Christ’s crucifixion on Good Friday and the celebration of His resurrection on Easter Sunday. As Catholics, we are called to fast, to pray and to give alms in our spiritual preparation for these two events.

In today’s gospel, we are told to do these things without fanfare, in order to receive our just reward from God. The hypocrites mentioned by our Lord perform these acts openly to gain the approval and favour of men, which constitutes their paltry recompense. We should rather perform these acts privately, in secret, and trust that our reward is in God.

The three acts described in Matthew’s Gospel—fasting, prayer and almsgiving—also relate to three recent works Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, Evangelii Gaudium and Fratelli Tutti. These papal letters explain how Catholic Social Teaching forms the fundamental basis of our Lenten preparations.

We are called to fast to undergo a conversion by reducing our consumption of the Earth’s resources, which, left unchecked, has disastrous consequences for both the environment and the wellbeing of humanity. Jesus himself fasted for 40 days and 40 nights in the desert after his baptism and before starting his ministry. Pope Francis writes that a “change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power.” He also highlights the “great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers” to consider the common good and the stewardship of creation. (LS, 206).

We are called to pray to purify ourselves and to open our souls, hearts and minds to receive the word of God and the message of salvation therein. We pray not only for ourselves, but also for others. Such prayer for intercession, Pope Francis says, “moves us particularly to take up the task of evangelization and to seek the good of others.” He adds that intercession “is a way of penetrating the Father’s heart and discovering new dimensions which can shed light on concrete situations and change them.” (EG, 281, 283).

Through prayer, we can thus become enlightened about the world’s disparities and injustices and receive direction from the Holy Spirit for correcting them by creating a preferential option for the poor and for the vulnerable.

We are called to give alms as an act of solidarity with the poor and marginalized of our society; to reach out to them; to respect their dignity; and to acknowledge their differences from and similarities to us. Pope Francis writes that solidarity is “a moral virtue and social attitude born of personal conversion.” He adds that it “finds concrete expression in service,” which means “caring for vulnerability, for the vulnerable members of our families, our society, our people.” The Holy Father explains, “Solidarity means much more than engaging in sporadic acts of generosity…. It also means combatting the structural causes of poverty, inequality, the lack of work, land and housing, the denial of social and labour rights.” He adds that solidarity “is a way of making history, and this is what popular movements are doing.” (FT, 114-116).

This appeal to fasting, prayer and almsgiving challenges us to look at the world around us and seek better ways of doing things, of making a difference in the lives of others. Development and Peace’s partner, the Justice, Development and Peace Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan in Nigeria, works to promote holistic human development by conscientizing those who are central to sustainable and meaningful development through a variety of democracy, human rights, microcredit, integrated development, welfare, women’s development, and community service programs. Basing its support for such partners on the Catholic Social Teaching principles subsidiarity and participation, Development and Peace helps individuals and groups attain their goals through their own initiative and efforts, without dictating terms or imposing models devised in the West.

Let us Share Lent this year by sharing love for our neighbours in the Global South.

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