By Maria Byars Khell
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Each Lent, the Church asks us to focus on these three things to draw our hearts back to God. What is so important about this combination of spiritual practices? And this Lent, how can we make the most of each but, in particular, almsgiving?
These practices are powerful spiritual tools for growing in holiness, and each one complements the other. Prayer allows us to connect with God who loves us. Fasting helps to empty us so that we can be filled with what matters most: the grace of God. Almsgiving (generosity to the poor) directs our attention to the needs of others and completes the circle. Together, they help us grow in love toward God and our neighbors.
Certain prayer forms (like Stations of the Cross, Penance Services, Eucharistic Holy Hours), are traditionally highlighted for Lent. Christians of many denominations often share what they are giving up for Lent. Almsgiving tends to be the least-mentioned Lenten practice. Nonetheless, it can be life changing, and it is essential. As Saint John Chrysostom famously said,
“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
One practical idea is to adopt a trusted charity in which we can focus our efforts. This is effective for many reasons. Charities provide a channel of aid for those in need and are excellent windows to broad issues. They allow us to unite with other people in a worthy mission. They create opportunities to awaken interest among friends and family through social media resources. A good charity encourages positive solutions, gives hope for lasting change and allows us to be part of a good news story.
Mary’s Meals, named after Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a beautiful charity that gives some particularly relevant opportunities to put prayer, fasting and almsgiving into practice. The advantage for others that Saint John Chrysostom speaks of, is food on the plates of little ones who need it most. As we turn to God in intercession this year as the world faces a global hunger crisis, a charity like Mary’s Meals allows us to effectively put faith into action.
Photos: Children eating at school in Liberia and children praying before a meal in Thailand.
The mission of Mary’s Meals is to feed hungry children in many of the world’s poorest countries, providing them with a daily meal in a place of education. Instead of scavenging or working for food, a meal at school attracts children into the classroom. This nutritious meal gives them energy and allows them to concentrate on their studies and make the most of their education to help to break the cycle of poverty. A meal provides hope.
Mary’s Meals also offers ways to join worldwide supporters in prayer through its monthly prayer newsletter. Many supporters have found a strong motivation to fast intentionally and in solidarity with those who lack food. With prayer, fasting and almsgiving seamlessly linked in the mission of Mary’s Meals, it is an ideal charity to support this Lent prayerfully and practically.
Whether you adopt Mary’s Meals or another charity that carries out the works of mercy this Lent, your acts of love for those in need are received by Jesus Himself. Jesus has revealed in scripture that He takes our kindness personally.
“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me … as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”-Matthew 25
One more beautiful reason to adopt a charity this Lent, as you seek to come closer to Jesus.
Maria Byars Khell is a Mary’s Meals volunteer and long-time supporter of its work.
Featured Image from Mary’s Meals: Cooking & serving food in Zambia – Picture Copyright Chris Watt www.chriswatt.com
We strive to operate on a very small budget, but we need your help. Both one-time and monthly donations are welcome. Just $10 a month will help cover the cost of operating Integrated Catholic Life for one day! Please help us bring enriching and inspiring Catholic content to readers around the world by giving today. Thank you!
Please help spread the Gospel. Share this article with family and friends on Facebook and other social media.