The great Lenten practices are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Of course the cynical ask “But Father, shouldn’t we be doing that anyway? Why is it different in Lent?”
Actually it is a good question (unless the reason for asking it is to get off the hook and do nothing for Lent at all). We know that we all have the obligation to say a Morning and Evening prayer - and for those of us in vows or promises, those prayers may have a special form. And we know as well that (almost) every Friday through the year we must abstain from eating meat (by the way this is not an optional extra for the keen, or religious fanatics. Nor is it something that a mere Priest can exempt you - or himself - from). And as for almsgiving, then we only have to hear the words of Our Lord in the Gospel of St Matthew to know the consequences that await us if we do not give drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to the naked &c. So if we have to do that anyway, why is Lent different? Well, apart from us trying to mirror what happened to Christ in the desert in a small way, it points to something much deeper.
We know that cream cakes, and sherry (or fizzy drinks), and sitting around watching Casualty, are good things. But they are not good things if all you do is spend your life slumped in an armchair, with the remains of custard slices and empty sherry bottles (or fizzy drinks bottles) around you. We also need exercise, health drinks and nourishing food, to keep our bodies, and our minds in a good state, to keep us fit and active. And if we are about to do anything important, be that running a marathon, or trying to get into that little black dress again, or listening to your doctor, then we have to prepare for it. There is no magic wand to make us healthy and fit. We have to work at it, bit by bit, so that as we become fitter, or slimmer, or healthier, and so we can reach our goal. So it is with Lent. It is, if you like, our spiritual work out regime - preparing us for life. Even though we may fall into bad habits at other times of the year, Lent gives us the opportunity to refocus, and get in shape. So, although we should be doing these good things at other times of the year as well, Lent is a (not so) gentle reminder of what we should be doing and how we should be living.
Keep spiritually fit this Lent through prayer, fasting and almsgiving!