Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

By Aaron Brown, Director of Liturgy and Chapel Music

The election of Pope Francis is a first on many levels: the first pope from the Western Hemisphere, the first non-European pope in almost 1,300 years, the first Jesuit to ever be elected pope, and the first pope to take the name Francis. What other firsts will there be during his papacy, and how will he impact the Church and the world? Already Pope Francis has mentioned his great concern for the poor, and how he wishes for a Church that is both poor and for the poor.

Care for the poor has been a primary Christian objective since its inception. In the Gospels we consistently find Christ ministering to or preaching about 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).

The season of Lent can be a time to re-focus and re-evaluate what each of us does for the poor. We have been marking our Lenten journey in three ways: with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three practices must never be undertaken in isolation from one another, but should complement one another. The only purpose of fasting is not the self-mortification, but it is a way to stand in solidarity with and directly help our hungry brothers and sisters. Imagine how much good would be done if all Christians of the world were to fast just one day a week, even just during Lent, and donate the money saved on food to the poor. In his Second Letter, Clement says “Fasting is better than prayer, and charity better than both” (16:4). Charity becomes the visible and concrete fruit of our prayer and fasting. If our fasting and prayer does not move us to transformation and action, then it is worthless, it is dead, and it does no good (cf. James 2:17).

As First World citizens, it is easy for us to forget the poor. We are happy to argue about any number of issues, debate various theological and philosophical points, make sure we attend church and live as “good people” – but are we also caring for one another? Are we affecting concrete, real change in the word? How much time do we spend feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the ill, and visiting prisoners? In Matthew 25 Christ is clear on who will inherit the Kingdom, and who will not.

Let us use the rest of our Lenten journey to affect real change. May our prayer and fasting truly transform us and lead us to the greater good of service. Finally, let us implore the prayers of St. Francis of Assisi. It was he who said: “Let us, therefore, have charity and humility and give alms because it washes the stains of our sins from our clothes. For people lose everything they leave behind in this world; but they carry with them the rewards of charity and the alms which they gave, for which they will have a reward and a just retribution from the Lord.”