Todays Scripture: Gen 43:1 – 15, 1 Cor 7:1 – 9, Mark 4:35 – 41
Church tradition (what has been handed down) tells us that Lent contain three “tools” or three “disciplines” that we can use to draw closer to Him and therefore each other. Those three are prayer, almsgiving and fasting. I believe that the situation the church finds herself in today stands in relation to how she incorporate (in corpus) those three tools. But what does it mean to pray, to give alms and to fast?
From the Latin word “precor” which means to “beg” or to “entreat”.
The act of prayer, as the word in itself implies, comes from a state of lowliness or even desperation. We do not need to beg if we are not in need. Humbleness is the starting point of prayer. Many Christians through the ages has approached prayer as something to use when we want to “make God do something”. We have this notion of that we can “make God do things” if we pray. This is not a humble attitude, but can very easily become an attitude of pride. And God resists the proud. The essential prayer is simplistic and very hard. “Lord, have mercy” or “Lord, teach me how to pray”. Only if we begin here, if we let God guide our communication with Him can we hope to say and ask for the right things. God desires our prayer because prayer is a way of life and God desires our company (how awesome is this?!) He desires to help us, to give us the fish (not the snake). He desires to calm the storm (and He did calm it when the disciples begged for their lives). But He will not give out of the gifts He desires to give if we are not able to receive them. And Holy things can only be received by the holy (the one who is whole). So this presents a problem. No one is holy, all have fallen. We can not communicate with God. No, we can not, but Christ can. Our words must depend on the Word. Hence our prayer must rely on Christ. Hence our life must desire to imitate Christ. This is prayer, to trust Christ.
From Greek “nesteia” which signifies “deprivation”
Fasting is established throughout Scriptures as a way to express repentance or self – humiliation. It is the act of giving yourself, your routines, your addictions and your priorities to God so that He may heal you. It is the emptying of yourself so that you can be filled with Him. Fasting makes evident our state of deprivation. It is a physical testimony of our spiritual state. Hence, fasting is the realization or incarnation of prayer. Hence, God grants revelation through true fasting because fasting puts us in the proper relation towards God. The relation of dependence and humility. Fasting is not done without danger because it also brings temptation. It may become an occasion for a “parade of religion” (Matt 6:16) which can lead to self-righteousness which is the very opposite of true repentance. True fasting then becomes the physical awareness of our dependence of God. false fasting becomes a source of pride.
From Greek “elemos” which means “pity” or “mercy”
The act of almsgiving is an act of mercy. It originates in a life of prayer. If we rely on Christ to transform our lives this is exactly what will happen. This transformation will affect our whole life. How we act, behave and prioritize. If it does not, then there is still pride lurking somewhere. Almsgiving has the “goal” to display Gods grace. Giving alms is an act of grace because it does not seek anything in return. In its intention, it is a “one way action”. It is love in its purest form “agape”, the giving of oneself for nothing else then to benefit the other. To touch the sore that no one else will touch. To visit the one that no one else will visit. To help the one who everyone else has abandoned. This is what Christ did. This is how the world will know that Christs body is “connected” to the Head. We know that this is what Christ, the Head wants us to do, yet we are very reluctant to do those things, to give alms. To give grace. How can we pray to receive the mercy of God if we are not prepared to reflect the very same mercy and extend it to a broken world?
To sum it up. Prayer is the asking of Gods grace. Fasting is the receiving of Gods grace (paradoxical as it sounds). Almsgiving is the giving of Gods grace. The three “tools” are connected and “dependent on each other” to be able to work as they should. This is why the Church presents these three tools together, as a whole.
Listen to St John Chrysostom:
“To set about this prayer, paint the house of your soul with modesty and lowliness and make it splendid with the light of justice. Adorn it with the beaten gold of good works and, for walls and stones, embellish it assiduously with faith and generosity. Above all, place prayer on top of this house as its roof so that the complete building may be ready for the Lord. Thus he will be received in a splendid royal house and by grace his image will already be settled in your soul.”