The Romance of Lent
Pope Francis says we must also cultivate time for prayer, “interior space,” amid our daily lives. And he has in mind something more than saying a few occasional prayers, or devotions such as the rosary. He envisions something in addition to the liturgical life of the Church and the Mass.
While vocal prayers, devotions, and the liturgy certainly should be part of the Christian’s spiritual life, Pope Francis calls us to make sure we also set aside time for intimate, daily conversation with the Lord—a personal daily encounter with his love. He calls us to take in “the deep breath of prayer” that comes from meditation on God’s word, prayerfully reflecting on it, talking to God about it, asking the Lord how it applies to our life.
Lent is an opportunity to build more time for this kind of prayer—even just fifteen or twenty minutes a day—whether it be reflecting on the Gospels or the Scripture readings from Mass or feeding our meditation with spiritual classics like The Imitation of Christ. Sometimes our prayer might entail just quietly resting in God’s presence with open hearts, allowing him to gaze lovingly upon us. Whatever the setting might be, it’s crucial that we make time for this intimate conversation with the Lord each day. “Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless…and our fervor dies out” (EG 262).
Some Christians, however, say they don’t have time to pray. That’s an interesting statement: “I don’t have time.” In reality, we all have time. The question is, what are we doing with it? What are our priorities in life: Success? Financial gain? Sports? Entertainment? The news? We make time for the things we value most. But do we view prayer as an absolutely vital endeavor?
Pope Francis compares prayer to breathing. Just as we need to take in oxygen to survive, so we need to take in the “deep breath of prayer” if we want to sustain the Christian life. A life without regular prayer may be a sign that we don’t value God as much as we should. If we were convinced of how much we really need God, of how little we can do without him, we would be turning to the Lord in prayer regularly, stopping in the middle of our day to tell him we love him, to seek his guidance, and to beg for his help.
Almsgiving: Remembering the Poor
Blessed Mother Teresa often spoke about how the Gospel can be summed up on five fingers. While pointing to each finger she would repeat these five words of Jesus: “You…did…it…to…me.” She, of course, was drawing on the well-known passage in Matthew 25 about how those who provide for the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the sick perform these charitable acts ultimately for Christ. When we give to the poor, we encounter God himself, who is especially present in the poor. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). Indeed, serving the poor was one of the most important markers of Christian identity in the early Church. When St. Paul, for example, was being sent to preach to the Gentiles, the apostles extended him “the right hand of fellowship” and gave him one chief criterion for his mission: “remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). This characteristic would make Paul’s Christian communities in ancient Rome very different from the self-centered, hedonistic culture around them.