Just before Ash Wednesday, I created my budget for Lent. I do this every year. Setting aside funds to be given to charity by Easter, I have the joy-filled task in prayer of figuring out what is best this year.
I don’t recall the exact quote, but in a sermon, St. Augustine referred to this exercise as enjoying the meal you see another eat because of your generosity.
As I prepared my budget this year, I was armed with the words of Pope Benedict XVI, whose Lenten Message for 2013 calls for a charity that communicates how God’s “charity” to me has touched my soul. (Here is the link to his Lenten Message: www.archlou.org/HolyFatherLent.) Jesus has often said in the Gospels that for the one who has been forgiven, there is much love, much charity. The parables also point to this reality, even sometimes in the opposite direction, when the one who was forgiven a large debt could not bring himself to lighten up on the one who owed him a mere pittance.
On the Monday before Ash Wednesday, I spent a day of prayer at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani. I always love being there, but this year it was really special because the Trappist priests agreed to be available for priest confessions that afternoon. What a gift to prepare for Shrove Tuesday by receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Most commonly known these days as Mardi Gras, the original name “shrove” refers to the act of being shriven or forgiven.
So Lent begins. The tripod will appear in the daily readings: pray more deeply and often; give to others through almsgiving; and fast, both in the way Church precepts direct (no meat on Friday and just simple meals and no snacks for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) and then some. Those who do not want to give up anything and only take positive action, I fear, can seem like those who want to pray always and everywhere and end up praying nowhere and at no time. Acts of sacrifice and fasting can provide a needed discipline.
My prayer and my fasting have a clear direction. According to Pope Benedict, prayer and fasting should uncover the lavish charity of God for me, and I should search for ways to show my thanks. Here is how the budget comes in. Each year I begin with an amount. The Bible provides a helpful guide in the tithe of 10% as a good starting point. Then the fun starts. I get to give it away and enjoy the meal I see another eat because of my generosity.
I heard a talk by Matthew Kelly last month in which he shared the findings of his new book, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic: How Engaging 1% of Catholics Could Change the World. His contention, bolstered by his own research, is that of all Catholics in our United States, about 7% can be judged as deeply engaged in their faith and in the work of new evangelization.
His book is worth reading, especially his description of the four characteristics that this 7% remarkably seem to share. He gives a full chapter to each. The common characteristics of these individuals include: a personal prayer routine (often developed without the help of others); engagement in continued study that regularly feeds their faith life (again, in remarkably different ways); a generous spirit that takes concrete form in giving to the works of the Church and other worthwhile projects; and the capacity to talk to others about their faith. How they share their faith is diverse, but what they have in common is the public nature of their faith and the courage to speak of it to others.
So, this budget for Lent is a big deal. It can jump-start so many aspects of your faith and can, in fact, become what Matthew Kelly calls a trigger event that opens the doors for grace to flow into the heart of someone who might otherwise be in the 93% of those not fully engaged. What is my budget and list? Well, go to this link www.archlou.org/LentBudget to view a segment of the television program Conversations and hear more. I don’t mention the amount, but I discuss this process and my initial reflections.
One final thought involves the potential for your acts of charity to be carried out prayerfully and personally. Knowing those I am called to help and even visiting and befriending those I help is something that Jesus surely did, as he extended his healing and forgiving life to so many in his public ministry. In some ways, giving is really a two-way street. That familiar cliché, “I get more than I give,” really is true. So long as the gift to another is not perfunctory and grudgingly given, the friendships formed can result in a mutually enriching experience.
Don’t delay. Create your budget today, and begin to look for God’s nudge on how to spend it before Easter.