Lent is a time to concentrate in a special way on the life of Christ, in particular on his passion and crucifixion. Lent encourages us to more clearly recognize and acknowledge the depth of sacrifice that Christ made for our benefit. In turn, we can better understand and appreciate the love that he has for us, and are more likely to respond to him with love.
The Church provides traditional Lenten practices that help us focus on our relationship with Christ.
“The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works)” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1438).
While the primary emphasis of these practices are spiritual, you will be surprised at how much they enhance your ability to fulfill your daily responsibilities as well — not just during Lent, but throughout the year. Since my focus is on personal finances, I’d like to discuss how two of these practices can assist you in becoming a better steward of Providence.
The first is fasting. One of the most common difficulties Americans have with their finances is living beyond their means. This tendency is linked to our fallen nature. The Catechism describes it this way: “Our thirst for another’s goods is immense, infinite, never quenched” (No. 2536).
The ramifications of our overspending are great, and are apparent at the national, state, local and personal levels. Overspending leads to a failure to save, leaving future obligations unfunded. It also leads to unproductive debt, which creates major obstacles to having a successful financial future. Over the last few years, we have seen some of the consequences of overspending with the housing crisis. Now, we are beginning a great national debate about how to handle future pension obligations that have been promised but not paid for.
Fasting provides a discipline that helps us corral this tendency to overspend. It promotes temperance, which “is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable” (Catechism, No. 1809).
While the Church requires fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, many faithful practice it on a more regular basis. They recognize how it builds their character not only in the virtue of temperance, but in other virtues as well.
Giving our first fruits
The second Lenten practice I wanted to touch on is almsgiving. Generosity is a key part of our Christian journey, having a direct impact on our relationship with God and neighbor. With American Catholics giving about 1 percent of their income to charity, it’s clear that our practice is to give from what’s left over rather than following the scriptural principle of giving from our first fruits (see Prv 3:9). Renewing our commitment to almsgiving in a special way during Lent stretches our ability to love.
Tobit 12:8-9 says: “It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin.”
Just as fasting strengthens the virtue of temperance, almsgiving builds the virtue of charity. I encourage you to make both of these practices part of your Lenten plan in a meaningful way. Most importantly, they will lead to spiritual closeness with Our Lord. Secondarily, they will help you become a more effective manager of your finances and a better steward of Providence. Those are benefits worth pursuing throughout the year! God love you.
Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.