A Lenten Message from the Provincial, Fr. Ray Diesbourg
A three-legged stool requires the presence of all three legs to prevent it from falling over. The season of Lent can be compared to a three-legged stool. On Ash Wednesday, Jesus tells us in the Gospel from Matthew (6:1-6; 16-18) that Lent has three pillars—like the stool. They are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Prayer develops our relationship with God; fasting affects our relationship with ourselves; and almsgiving helps us focus on our relationships with others. All three are needed for us to remain steady and balanced, much like the three legs of a stool are needed for it to remain upright.
The first leg of our Lenten journey is prayer. Prayer is the primary means we use to develop our relationship with God. How that happens will depend on our view or image of God.
Do we see God as distant and remote, or as a kind of policeman who watches to catch us doing wrong? Do we imagine God to be like Santa Claus, giving us good things if we behave? Or do we focus on the God revealed by Jesus—compassionate, loving, forgiving, merciful?
Prayer is how we relate to God. And the most profound prayer involves listening rather than speaking. Although we often prefer to talk to God using many words, God has much more important things to say to us. So the best kind of prayer is to sit quietly and listen to what God wants us to hear. In fact, to be our best selves, and to fulfill God’s will for us, we must open our hearts to the word of God.
This can be difficult, especially if you’ve felt like you’ve never heard anything from God, or have a hard time understanding God’s love for you. One of the most popular ministries of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, Life’s Healing Journey, is meant to help us really and fully reconnect with God, his love, and his presence in our hearts. The retreat programs begins by helping us to reflect on our images of God as well as discern whether these images are true or false perceptions.
The LHJ ministry is meant to take away those memories and experiences that distort our relationship with God and unite our hearts to fully understand and experience God’s eternal love and mercy. If you do have a hard time with this, keep your prayer simple and straightforward, taking a few minutes a day to pray and the same amount of time to sit quietly, waiting for the Lord to speak to your heart.
The second leg of our Lenten journey is fasting. This involves our relationship with ourselves and our self-image. Fasting requires that we begin by taking an honest look at ourselves in order to discover what blocks us from being free. This can involve disappointments we’ve experienced, unmet expectations, the ending of various relationships, pain that others have caused us, or sometimes even the aging process. (The Life’s Healing Journey retreats also deal with a process of letting go of our hurts and disappointments so that we no longer experience inner turmoil.)
Fasting is not merely giving up our favorite foods or drinks, but also involves the letting go of those things that disturb our inner peace. Fasting provides both physical and spiritual cleansing.
The final leg of the Lenten journey is almsgiving. This deals with our relationships with others. Once we experience inner freedom, once we are no longer “caught up in a web of wounds” (a phrase from Henri Nouwen), we are free to focus on others. Almsgiving represents our care and concern for others, our sense of compassion, our ability to forgive and to reach out.
Life’s Healing Journey retreats help participants to recognize forgiveness as the most powerful expression of love. Almsgiving then is not merely the sharing of financial assistance, but also includes the giving of ourselves in the service of others.
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the three Lenten pillars that deepen our commitment to Gospel values and prepare us for the celebration of Easter. Because they involve our relationships with God, self, and others, these Lenten practices keep us balanced and prevent us from falling over—like the three legs of a stool needed to keep it standing.
May our journey through Lent with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving strengthen and keep sturdy our relationships with God, self, and others.
If you’re interested in attending a Life’s Healing Journey retreat, you will be happy to know that we have expanded our ministry to offer the initial retreat, Life’s Healing Weekend, year-round, in both English and Spanish.
And if perhaps you aren’t ready to attend a retreat, I invite you to download the Life’s Healing Journey Prayer and Reflection Guide to pray and reflect upon this Lent. The guide offers some basic steps to learn about yourself, your faith, and your view of God and others in the hopes that it will assist you in growing closer to Christ through the season of Lent.
I hope you have a blessed and balanced Lent.
Fr. Ray Diesbourg, M.S.C.
Provincial, , USA Province
Missionaries of the Sacred Heart