by Joan Chittister, osb
Jesus’ words make short shrift of public wrestling with inner goodness. “When you give alms, keep it a secret. When you pray, do it quietly. When you fast, don’t look wan.” The religion of Jesus, in other words, is not a religion of show. It is not a religion aimed at public approval. It is not even religion intent on the kind of pious exercise that is called witness. No, Jesus’ words make Lent a way of life, rather than a ritual.
The message of Lent is clear: Alms are for self-giving; prayer is for personal growth in the mind of God; fasting is for self-discipline. What you get out of this kind of religion is not simply a change of liturgical cycles. What you get out of this kind of religion is a change of person. But when the person is changed then other actions will show it, and not all of them will be called “religious” by establishment types.
Once I have given enough alms to have learned to give myself recklessly away, then I will be capable of giving myself for nuclear disarmament and immigrant children and planetary survival with an abandonment that is dangerous.
Once I have prayed myself into the mind of Christ, I will bring the Christian ethic to the national budget and U.S. foreign policy and the economic order and the right to life with a clarity called “unreasonable” and “naive” perhaps, but hard to fool with civil religion.
Once I myself have fasted to the point of hunger, I will have the self-discipline it takes to spend my life in such a way that all the world may be able to be filled here in the Garden Earth.
Lent, this scripture shows us plainly, is not for its own sake. The purpose of Lent is to enable others to be whole because I have become everything I have ever wanted to be. Lover. Christian Disciple. Thus will the glory of God indeed be revealed.
- Have you ever given yourself recklessly? What enabled that?
- What do you want to become this Lent? How will that enable wholeness in others?