On the Meaning of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving in Lent

According to Monsignor Bruno Forte, Theologian

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NAPLES, Italy, FEB. 26, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The journey back to God that Lent represents has in prayer, fasting and almsgiving three fundamental points of support, says the preacher of this year’s retreat at the Roman Curia.

Monsignor Bruno Forte, a member of the International Theological Commission, will begin preaching the Spiritual Exercises this Sunday. In an interview with Vatican Radio, the theologian said the world’s current situation calls for living Lent «as a journey of profound return from the heart of life to God.»

Indeed, «international scenes of conflict and violence» make imperative the need to «rediscover the path of peace as a way of dialogue and justice,» something that «happens through the heartfelt conversion of each one of us,» he said.

Secularized Western society also evidences the need to «rediscover the horizons of meaning, of hope,» something that «only the living God can give with his promise,» the priest said. Therefore, «it is important to return to God,» following Jesus, «the way, truth and life,» he added.

To do so, Lent suggests three means: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

For a Christian, «to pray means to allow oneself to be loved by the Father, to place oneself in an attitude of listening, of interior docility» and to present to him «all that we are, our expectations and hopes»; it is to live «prayer as a sacrifice of praise and intercession,» Monsignor Forte said.

Prayer also «means to unite ourselves to Jesus, in the Church and his Body in history,» and to open ourselves «to the breath of the Holy Spirit, who makes all things new; in brief, prayer in the Trinity is what we must increasingly discover,» he added.

Fasting, the theologian continued, «in the great spiritual tradition, has an eschatological meaning, as when an important moment is awaited.» It is as «if the physical need to eat takes second place,» as one is «nourished by this desire and this expectation,» he said.

In Christian tradition, fasting «represents above all the dimension of expectation of the Lord,» and «the opening of the heart, stripping oneself of everything that is an obstacle to the gift of his coming,» the priest said.

During Lent, «fasting represents being pilgrims toward the great gift of Easter,» he added. Therefore, we must «rediscover the need and desire of God as the profound soul of our existence, disposing ourselves to be empty of ourselves in order to be full of him.»

Almsgiving, far from being an act of giving, «is an attitude of the heart,» Monsignor Forte said, «a heart that is humble, repentant, merciful, compassionate, which seeks to reproduce in its relations with others the experience of mercy that each one of us lives in our relation with God.»

Almsgiving, therefore, «is care, is making concrete, is discernment, is gift — all of these being dimensions that have been experienced by the believer when he contemplates the love of God that accepts and forgives him,» he said.

The priest made yet another suggestion for this Lent: to rediscover the value of sacrifice. «A small sacrifice, a gesture of love, possibly humble, hidden, but genuine, which costs something and is done in praise of God and for some one who is suffering and in need,» he said.

In fact, «there is no love without sacrifice,» just as «without love, sacrifice would be simply external constriction,» he noted. «Sacrifice is an offering of love. And we must not forget the great example that Jesus gave us, and remember that ‘God so loved the world that he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.'»

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