Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday: Prayer and Penance

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are three traditional works of penance that Christians have always undertaken during Lent. They might take different forms today than in past ages, but the essence is the same.

Lent is the time when the whole Church goes on retreat. It's a special time of grace, six weeks to pause and attend to the health of our souls.

This Lent, many people face economic difficulties. A lot of people have lost their jobs in recent months. The economy seems to be sinking even deeper into recession, maybe even depression. It means real hardship for a lot of people. This Lent, the work of almsgiving might be harder to practice than before. But for those who can do it, it's a great way to practice generosity. Almsgiving isn't only about money, however. Anything we can give counts, whether it's our time, our interest, our attention, our care and concern for others.

When I was in grade school, we used to get "mite boxes" for Lent. We would put our pennies and other spare change into them. When Lent was over, we turned them in as a donation to some local charity. It really wasn't a lot of money, but it was a good way to teach kids how to think of other people and to make some sacrifices to help them.

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