Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving

Every Lent the Church invites to the three traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I have to admit that most years I’m scrambling to try and think of something by Ash Wednesday. So I’m writing this in hopes that it will give us all some time to reflect on and pray about how we would like to increase our prayer, fasting and almsgiving this Lent. 

It seems that the digital age provides us with a unique opportunity for Lenten practices. The Catechism states “In many circumstances, the Christian is called to make promises to God.” The hopes of this article is to allow us all an opportunity to reflect and pray over promises we make to God during this penitential season. 

The number one Christmas gift last year was the Kindle Touch, and I can’t believe the number of children that have iPod touches. We all probably need to ask ourselves the following question: “Is the media that I am using drawing me closer to God or away from God?” We might also take time to read Brandon Vogt’s book The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops who Tweet

Here are a few different examples that can be reflected on: What do I find myself watching on TV? What do I listen to on the way to work? What am I surfing for online? How often am I on my smart phone, or iPad, or Kindle? What relationships am I forming on Facebook? Are these generally drawing me toward God and intimacy or taking me away from God and intimacy? Lent is a time for us to turn back to God — we can do this with our use of technology as well.

Prayer

The Christian tradition comprises three major expressions of the life of prayer: vocal prayer, meditation, and contemplative prayer (Catechism, No. 2721). If you don’t know what these types of prayer are, read the section on prayer in the Catechism. If you don’t have a Catechism — buy one! It gives a wonderful overview of our tradition of Christian prayer. 

Here’s where new media come in. The Internet can be a great way to learn to pray. There are numerous sites that help us to pray in each of these ways. I invite you to explore them by going to our parish Web site (St. Joseph, Amherst, Ohio) and clicking on my blog (you can also go directly to fathermichaeldenk.blogspot.com). Scroll down and find “Online Sacristy — Great Links for Catholics.” Here you will find numerous sites that will help you develop your prayer life. Thanks to the Internet, we have access to great resources in a way that we never have had before. You may also find that there is an area of your life that needs to be reflected on. You will also find links for your marriage, chastity, addiction, or maybe even returning to the church. The links will provide great resources including articles, podcasts, CDs and books. 

Many parishes offer not only increased opportunities for prayer during Lent, but also different forms of prayer such as a Lenten Mission and the Stations of the Cross. 

The Catechism states that: The Christian family is the first place of education in prayer. Based on the sacrament of marriage, the family is the “domestic church” where God’s children learn to pray “as the Church” and to persevere in prayer. For young children in particular, daily family prayer is the first witness of the Church’s living memory as awakened patiently by the Holy Spirit (Catechism, No. 285). This Lent could be a great time for families to begin or renew praying together. 

Great Catholic apps can also be found for your iPod, Android or Blackberry. Just go to the App Store or Market and search “Catholic.” You will find an abundance of apps that will help with everything from learning how to pray the rosary to preparing for Confession. Some of my favorites are: iBreviary, Confession, and Rosary. Kindle also has numerous writings of the saints for free including: St. Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Therese: The Story of a Soul, and many others (Search: Catholic or Saint). I encourage you to explore these and download at least one “prayer app” to help you grow in prayer this Lent.

Fasting and Abstinence

Of the Church’s six precepts, the fifth precept is to observe the prescribed fasting and abstinence. (Catechism, Nos. 2041-2043) First it’s important to clarify the difference between fasting and abstinence. Fasting means that the amount of food we eat is considerably reduced. Abstinence means that we give up a particular kind of food or drink or form of amusement. True fasting always involves limiting food so as to hunger. Hunger is so basic and elemental that, if we can begin to discipline this, it will impact the other areas of our lives. We will also begin to seek God to fulfill our hunger when we are resisting filling ourselves with other things. We need both fasting and abstinence in our lives. 

Abstinence is where technology can come in to play as a “form of amusement. Abstinence doesn’t necessarily have to be giving up something bad or sinful. Technology seems to be our “go to” form of amusement. A good Lenten abstinence may be to give up technology that doesn’t aid prayer or almsgiving. Maybe this means giving up some things all together: abstaining from TV during Lent, abstaining from video games on your iPod or maybe even giving it up all together for Lent (unless of course it is helping you to pray or give alms). Giving up surfing the Internet, especially if it is leading you to sites that are not good for your vocation. Maybe it means turning off the radio and praying on the way to work or listening to a CD of the Rosary or a lecture. Maybe it even means calling someone you love and praying together over the phone. I warn though that our inclination is to run from silence, and maybe this Lent could be a great opportunity to foster silence in our lives at least in some point of our day. 

The bottom line is that technology may be the very thing we need to abstain from, especially if is not leading us to God or to intimacy with others. Could God be calling you to abstain from technology this Lent? The harder this would be for you to do, probably the more necessary it might be. 

Above all, we need to have some time of solitude and silence in our lives. Even the Holy Father, Pope Benedict, who lit the Christmas tree from an iPad this year, realizes the need we have for silence. So much so that the theme that he adopted for this Year’s World Communications Day is silence. He advised that: “Silence is not presented simply as an antidote to the constant and unstoppable flow of information that characterizes society today, but rather as a factor that is necessary for its integration. Silence, precisely because it favors habits of discernment and reflection, can in fact be seen primarily as a means of welcoming the word.” Is there silence in your life? 

Fasting and abstinence are not intended to torture us, but to give us some sense of discipline and control over our passions and desires. Try to choose a form of fasting and abstinence that is “doable” but at the same time “sacrificial.” The whole point of fasting and abstinence in our life is to leave a place of emptiness or silence for God to enter in.

Almsgiving

Interestingly enough the sixth and final precept of the Church is a form of almsgiving: To provide for the material needs of the Church according to their ability (Catechism, Nos. 2041-2043). 

Giving alms to the poor is one of the most concrete ways of fraternal charity. “It is also a work of justice pleasing to God: He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none, and he who has food must do likewise. But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you. If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?” (Catechism, Nos. 2462 and 2447). 

If we think of this in terms of media, most things we buy online are a luxury and a privilege. One suggestion is to deny ourselves anything we would buy online and give alms, or match whatever we buy online with an almsgiving. 

One of the longstanding traditions of our Faith is that of tithing. The idea of tithing is that we give 10 percent of any of our income to God (See Gn 14:20; 28:22 and Mal 3:8-11). If you haven’t been tithing, Lent can be a great time to start. Simply focus on every paycheck that you get, every gift that you receive, any cash that someone gives to you, and take 10 percent out of that to give to the poor, to your favorite charity or to the Church on Sunday. 

An additional practice could be to make some forms of concrete sacrifices in order to alms-give. Here are some practical suggestions. Give up downloading any apps, games, music or other online purchase and put that money in the “Rice Bowl” (Orb.crs.org). This is a wonderful way of almsgiving because not only are you giving up, you are also learning about and helping those who are the poorest of the poor in our world. If there is something that you need, then try to make a matching alms to Catholic Relief Services. 

The hope with almsgiving is that we will learn to be generous and become more trusting and dependent on God to meet our needs rather than providing for ourselves. 

These are just some of the ways that we can pray, fast, and give alms in the Digital Age. I invite and encourage you to choose one way to increase your prayer, one type of fasting and abstinence, and one form of almsgiving. These longstanding traditions of our Church help us grow in our Faith and encounter the love of God in all aspects of our lives, and there’s no reason He won’t even reach us through the new media in this Digital Age. We just have to use all things for the “Greater Glory of God.”

Father Denk was ordained for the diocese of Cleveland in 2007 and is currently serving as parochial vicar at St. Joseph in Amherst, Ohio. A regular on Living Bread Radio, he has written for The Priest magazine and Homiletics and Pastoral Review. He also has a blog at fathermichaeldenk.blogspot.com.