By: Fr. Cris Robert Cellan, SSP
Unprecedented since the Spanish Flu in 1912, we enter the Lenten season this year with the pandemic backdrop but looking forward to overcome this great trial as guaranteed by the glory of Christ’s resurrection. Amidst this difficulty, we resolutely set out to exercise the indispensable aspects of our Lenten observances: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
St. Peter Chrysologus once wrote: There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting, and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other. Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself.
Fasting is primarily a spiritual discipline designed to tame the body so that we can concentrate on higher things. It is a voluntary avoidance of something that is good, restricting the food that we eat. It is distinguished from hunger strike or simply going on a diet. By controlling the passions of the body, we free our souls for prayer. By refraining from eating, we free up food or money that we can share to the less fortunate.
Giving therefore is a spontaneous consequence of our Lenten exercises especially in this time of a pandemic. With millions of Filipino workers losing their jobs and 43% of our countrymen declaring themselves poorer this past year, may we find the grace to help one another despite our meager resources. Our local churches need our help, too. Despite the 30% opening capacity, the collections are barely enough for the upkeep of the church and salaries of the staff. As in the story of the Multiplication of the Loaves, even with scarce resources when put in the hands of God, a miracle can truly happen. Indeed, no one is so poor that he cannot give and no one is to rich that he cannot receive.
The pandemic has certainly made us see the Lenten season of 2021 in a more reflective light. The high number of COVID infections and deaths grimly reminds us of the fragility of life. As it were, we live on borrowed time. Everything is on loan from the Lord. Our earthy existence is lent to us by God. This realization should set our priorities to build treasures in heaven and invest on charitable works. As St. Francis of Assisi puts it more aptly: “Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received—only what you have given.”
May our meaningful Lenten exercises of prayer, fasting and almsgiving lead us to have less for ourselves so that others may have more.