These three things are often called the three pillars of Lent. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are also referred to as “spiritual disciplines.” Similarly to how physical disciplines help us train and strengthen our bodies, these spiritual disciplines train our spirits. By them we learn to not indulge in the things that would harm us, and be committed to doing what will help us grow in virtue and holiness. They are the pillars which uphold the fundamental meaning of this season of Lent: namely, to repent from sin and be converted to the Gospel.
Each of these is important and are interconnected with each other. Fasting or almsgiving without a connection to God through prayer would have very little meaning. In fasting we might deny something to ourselves so that we are able to give it to someone else more in need as part of alms-giving. In supporting others, we also learn to truly care for them, and to pray for them. Each of these pillars is meant to lead into the others and reinforce one another.
Yet I think for many people, especially many Americans, that third pillar of almsgiving often becomes a sticking point. It tends to be a lot easier for us to focus on ourselves: on what we have, what we need, our goals, and how we obtain them. We do not mind praying or fasting as much because those things are more centered around ourselves. We who have grown up in a society which places so much importance on the things you own, can have a hard time overcoming the desire to hold onto what is perceived as “mine.”
The thought of giving someone else what is “mine” is often pretty distasteful. It becomes even more difficult when we barely know the person in question. Christ, however, calls us to look beyond ourselves in love to our brothers and sisters in need. We are to recognize that even what we perceive as ours is in reality a gift that we have received from God. Even the gifts and talents we have, the skills which we use in our work, come from God. Everything we have is from him and he has shared it with us as part of an expression of his love for us.
We must then be good stewards of those gifts and follow after the example of the Lord who has first freely shared those gifts with us. Almsgiving is one way we participate in this work of charity and love. I strongly encourage each of us to not lose sight of almsgiving this Lenten season. Challenge yourselves to give a little more – perhaps in your Sunday collection, perhaps to the Bishop’s Annual Appeal, or maybe to other charities like CRS or Elevate. Without all three pillars the structure becomes unstable and more likely to collapse into self-service. May your prayer and fasting lead to alms-giving, and may it strengthen your prayer and inform your fast.