Our ineptitude with prayer, fasting and almsgiving gains us some incisive instruction from Jesus in how to go about all this growing in friendship with Himself. The last thing Jesus wants is that we are moping around, all sad that we are growing in His friendship. That’s not offering Him friendship, that’s doing no good to ourselves, and is a terrible advertisement to others for being friends with Jesus. Jesus expects us to be happy about growing in friendship with Him.
- “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
So, what’s that reward? Why, the reward is growing in friendship with Jesus. And that’s a true joy.
- We pray also to know that we cannot pray as we ought as St Paul says. That knowledge hurts our pride, but if we are humble, it is an occasion for rejoicing, as we can then learn and grow to depend on the Holy Spirit, who has us pray through, with and in Jesus: “Abba! Father!” with Jesus, one with Him in the Agony of the Garden. Such solidarity with the Divine Son of the Living God, learning to stay awake, to watch and pray, unlike the not yet saints apostles, Peter, James and John, is a true joy.
- We fast to know that we of ourselves are so terribly tied to our basic necessities as if they were the be-all and end-all of our eternal necessities, when instead we will simply turn to dust no matter how well provided we are with this world’s necessities. And that’s tough to learn, as we don’t want to let go of the security we think we can provide for ourselves. Our “security” is no security at all. Our lives can end within a moment regardless of what we think we do. A layman, a hero to me, a great friend of mine, a one-time parishioner, a great friend of Cardinal Ratzinger, basically running the Church in a certain country as best he could, having liberal-ass (sorry!) bishops deposed and better bishops appointed via Cardinal Ratzinger, was dictating a letter to his wife in the evening in their bedroom. He suddenly looked at her and told her that this wasn’t necessary. “Why not?” she asked. “Jesus is here,” he said in great wonder and awe and reverence. “He’s here.” And then he dropped to the floor, dead, called by our Lord, just like that.
- We give alms, not letting our left hand know what our right is doing, not counting the cost (gauged by whether or not we congratulate ourselves, gauged by whether or not we have donor fatigue that is proportional to how much we congratulate ourselves)… we give alms so that we know just how stingy we are, of ourselves, learning to grow, then, in the generosity of our Lord, who was so very generous as to stand in our place, the Innocent for the guilty, so that He might have the right in His own justice to have mercy on us.
When we come to know a bit of humble thanksgiving before Jesus, having learned and grown in His friendship, we cannot but rejoice, even in the midst of all the hell of this world that we get to know better through our ineptitude in fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Our heavenly Father so loved us as to send Jesus to us. How outrageous wonderful that we are to be rewarded when Jesus does everything. Our reward is to realize that He is our Savior, our Friend, Christ our God, that He is the One, the only One.
Might it seem that THE LION, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, is asleep while we – oooh! – suffer so much in our fasting, prayer and almsgiving? Sure. But know this, He is the One doing battle for us, providing us with friendship inasmuch as we, in His grace, are humble enough to receive it. Then we realize that He has been the One doing battle the whole time over against Satan, and that He, Jesus, is the last one standing, and we with Him. Do you dare to become closer friends with Jesus this Lent in prayer, fasting and almsgiving? What I mean is… this Jesus, the great Lion of the Tribe of Judah:
The total sum of fasting, prayer and almsgiving is to GO TO CONFESSION!