How do we make a holy Lent? Some of the saints teach that when we pray, we need to add fasting and almsgiving to our prayer. Think of prayer as the soil of our soul’s garden. If something is going to grow in the garden, it also needs rain. And even with rain, it still cannot grow unless it has adequate sunlight. Fasting is the rain, and Almsgiving is the sunlight. We need all three for true spiritual growth.
What kind of fasting should we do? Well, that depends on what each person can handle with their health, personal strength, etc. Many Eastern Rite Christians (both Catholic and Orthodox) practice a very ancient form of fasting — they abstain from all meat, eggs, and dairy products for all of Lent! I cannot imagine being able to do that! But we can fast by abstaining from meat for all but one meal each day, or by giving up cigarettes, or having only one (or two) cups of coffee in the morning. We can all do some form of fasting! And fasting is not giving up something that is intrinsically evil, but giving up something that is good, for the sake of something that is better — in our case, for deeper union with our Lord Jesus Christ, and less dependence on the things of this world.
How about Almsgiving? It doesn’t matter how poor we might be, there are always people who are worse off than we are — can we help them in some way? Giving money, even giving the “two copper coins” like the widow in the Gospel, is the most common form of almsgiving. But there is another form of almsgiving that is mentioned by St. Caesarius of Arles, one of the Fathers of the Church: Giving forgiveness to those who hurt us, and giving it immediately! Wouldn’t that be a good practice for Lent?
So we need to practice Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving — the Soil, Rain, and Sunshine for the growth of our spiritual garden — for our growth in holiness. May you all have a wonderful and holy Lent!