After the Resurrection, our Lord put a very simple, yet profound question to Peter—and Jesus asked him this question three times: “Peter, do you love me?” Now let us replace Peter’s name with our own, because at the heart of our Christian life and all the practices of this Lenten season is this question, and the Lord asks it each and every day: “Do you love me?” . . . “Do you love me?” We would do well to let this question ring deeply in our hearts, during this season of Lent.
Hopefully, our response to this question will always be “yes.” But we also know that this “yes” must translate itself into action, that we must show it by how we live. There are three ways the Church invites us to show our love for Jesus in this season of Lent, and these are: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
First there is Prayer. When we love someone, we want to spend time with them. Prayer is that setting aside of time in the day to be with the Lord in the intimacy of loving silence—to rest in Him, to seek His wisdom, to receive mercy and strength or just to hear Him say, “I love you; let me help you; trust in me.” By opening ourselves to God each day in prayer, God is able to give us the help we need to face whatever comes our way. Prayer becomes related to almsgiving when our prayer includes the needs of others, praying for their salvation or for Divine assistance in a moment of crisis or need.
Fasting is a form of self-denial, a way to show the Lord that we love Him more than the passing pleasures of life. While fasting helps to detach and free us from things that can enslave us, it also helps us to pray with greater peace and fewer distractions. Another grace of voluntary fasting is that it can awaken in our soul a more intense hunger and thirst for God. By fasting, and other forms of self-denial, we are accepting the invitation to pick up our Cross and follow Jesus. The discomfort brought about by fasting unites us to the sufferings of Christ and places us in greater solidarity with all those who suffer. It is easy to become “fair-weather” Christians—friends of the Lord only when things are going our way, when things are easy. Voluntary fasting is one way we can show the Lord that we are willing to share in His passion and Cross, and like St. Paul, to bear our share for the sake of the Church’s growth and renewal. It is important to remember that fasting for strictly dietary purposes would not be true Christian penance. Fasting becomes Christian only when the motive is for the love of God and for the love of others.
Almsgiving prevents us from becoming selfish, greedy and attached to the things we can buy and own, expanding the heart and making us more generous toward others. Almsgiving reminds us that whatever we do toward another, we do it toward Christ. “Whatever you do unto the least,” Jesus said, “you are doing it to me.” The question “Do you love me?” is the cry of Jesus in every poor person we meet or hear about, in the lonely, the sick, in those who need and ask for our prayers. “Do you love me?” If our answer is “yes,” then we will be able to hear the lord say in return: “then feed me, clothe me, visit me, listen to me, pray for me, show me love.”
“Do you love me?” Let us use this time of Lent to answer this question the Lord puts to you and me—not just with our lips—but with generous lives of prayer, self-denial and almsgiving.
Jesus bless you and keep you always close to His heart,