Tuesday, 21 February 2017

How We Pray, Fast and Give During Lent

The past few weeks have brought a little taste of Lent as well as an anticipation of the joy of the Paschal Mystery. One of my dear sisters in law gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, who lived an hour, was baptised and was then born to Eternal Life.

The day after the baby died we celebrated Elena's 12th birthday, today is Virginia's 5th birthday as well as the baby's burial and Mattia will be 15 in a week's time...It has been a real rollercoaster of emotions of joy tinted with sadness.

It is when death touches your family so closely that life gains a different perspective, that suddenly the many superficial aspects of living that seemed once quite important appear insignificant and all you are left with is your Faith.

Everything passes but the love of God endures for ever. We don't have much of our own to give to our children and yet we have the greatest heritage of all to pass on... The certainty that life with the Lord is the key to happiness in this world and in the next.

Christ died, was buried, rose from the dead and He is seated at right hand of God the Father Almighty. Death has been destroyed so that we also may have access to eternal life. 

The beauty of the tradition of the Church is that like a mature mother who has seen it all before, she guides us through our life, she has the right words and customs for the right moment and season. She had beautiful words of consolation and encouragement during the funeral and during Lent she knows how to prepare our spirit to fully enter the Paschal Mystery.

Click on the picture for more posts on #HowWeLent #TheSienaSisters

 'Ash Wednesday' will soon be upon us and marks the beginning of Lent, although it is not a holy day of obligation, missing the service would be a real pity.  The ashes are made from the palms of the previous year's Palm Sunday and are blessed by the priest, with these a sign of the cross is imposed by the minister on the forehead of all the faithful as he pronounces the words from Genesis "Remember, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (there are alternative texts but this is the best one!). We face another Lent, another opportunity to repent and change our ways... another year that finds us in a new situation.
Another 40 days of preparation in which we remember the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent fasting in the desert.

Fasting, Almsgiving and Prayer during Lent 

Scripture tells us that in the wilderness Jesus was tempted. These are the same temptations that each of us faces in our daily life, to fall under the power of the three great enemies of the Christian life: the world, the flesh and the devil. To combat these enemies the Church has traditionally given us three weapons; prayer, fasting and almsgiving. 

Temptation of the flesh: 

Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.  And the tempter came and said to him, If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 

 The first temptation is the one of lust... the devil invites Jesus to satisfy the desires of the body, to act against the will of the Father, to reject God's own time and to provide there and then rather than to wait, trust and be fed by God. To this temptation Jesus answers is 'Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

To help us and to be ready to overcome this temptation the Church offers us the weapon of Fasting. To fast means to abstain, to deprive your body, usually of food and/or drink. We do this in order to train our body not to be driven by its needs, by what it asks for but to learn to wait... so that the body can be ready in front of greater sins. Fasting is also an ideal practise for the mortification of the flesh and the calming of the passions. When we fast we acknowledge that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God'.

How we, as a family fast during Lent:
We fast as individuals and also as a family. Each one of us will give up something very specific. The boys will usually stop playing with their Xbox, the girls will give up chocolate and sweets; no TV for anyone (except on Sunday) and a Lenten film night at the weekend helps us to replace leisure with spiritual nourishment. There won't be any wine on the table, no drinks other than water. Simpler meals and only fruit instead of a dessert to finish our meals. Friday meals will alternate between a fish based supper and bread and water which, for some bizarre reason, the children find a very exciting meal.

Temptation of the devil: Then the devil took him to the holy city, and set him on the pinnacle of the temple,  and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,‘He will give his angels charge of you,’and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,lest you strike your foot against a stone.’
How many times have we found ourselves putting God to the test, how many times have we doubted His Providence, in His love for us and how many times have we rebelled and fought against His plan... 
 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”

Sin began through Eve's dialogue with the devil. And our own sins and rebellions against God also begin in a dialogue with the devil, it's not fair... why me? why is my husband like that? Why is the money never enough? Prayer is the powerful weapon given by our mother Church to switch from a dialogue with the devil to a dialogue with God.

Vocal prayer, meditation and contemplative prayer are the three most important ways of praying. Prayer should be at the centre of our family life and even more in such strong liturgical moments. 

As Saint Therese of Lisieux writes Prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trail as well as joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus
Saint John Vianney adds In prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us. Prayer never leaves us without sweetness. It is honey that flows into the souls and makes all things sweet. When we pray properly, sorrows disappear like snow before the sun.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola reminds us We must speak to God as a friend speaks to his friend, servant to his master; now asking some favour, now acknowledging our faults, and communicating to Him all that concerns us, our thoughts, our fears, our projects, our desires, and in all things seeking His counsel.'

How we pray as a family during Lent:
Every evening, after cleaning the kitchen the family gathers in the sitting room to pray the Rosary. 
We will try to attend daily Mass as a family or separately and weekly Adoration.
For the first time as the children are now older we will spend some time with them studying scripture (Lectio Divina).

The temptation of the world: Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Though the world is a beautiful place, we are not of this world. It is very easy to lose sight of the Kingdom and to seek wealth, fame, power, recognition, praise and worldly perfection. Perhaps we are not aiming to take over the world but in our own domains at home or at work these are easily recognisable temptations. 

Almsgiving ( In Greek eleemosyne, "pity," "mercy") Jesus speaks about money an awful lot, more than we find comfortable, and you'll notice how often people will talk about almsgiving and immediately offer alternatives to money be it time or prayer, charities will ask for your old clothes, your unused items, old mobiles, all good things but sometimes you just need to put your hand in your pocket and take out some hard cash, it's a whole different experience. No one places their security in old clothes but in money... yes. 

How we practise almsgiving as a family during Lent:
I won't be able to disclose what we do as  it is written 'But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing', but here is a practical suggestion... Decide ahead on a Charity or a charitable cause you would like to donate money towards. Talk about it with the children and get them to decorate a little lenten box to keep around the house with easy access. During the 40 days of Lent put money in the box. Everyone gives as much or as little as he can and above all in secret. Money given through charities is great but some unmediated giving is also good, look a homeless person in the eye and give them some money. Do you know a family who is struggling? Drop them an envelope anonymously.

As Pope St John Paul II wrote, the three weapons of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are a powerful aid to progress in holiness, helping to master and correct the inclinations of human nature wounded by sin, indispensable if we are to remain faithful and follow Jesus on the way of the cross. (Vita Consecrata 38)

  Then Jesus said to him, “Begone, Satan! for it is written,
‘You shall worship the Lord your God

and him only shall you serve.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.


  1. What a beautiful post.
    I am a better person for having read it.
    God bless your sister in law and your family.
    I will pray for them in their loss.


  2. I am so incredibly sorry about little Giuseppe. What incredible heartbreak, but also what an incredible testament to the sanctity of life! This post is beautiful, Chiara. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thank you! It has been such a powerful experience for both the family and the wider community xx

  3. Beautifully written. I especially liked the part when you compared the Church to a mature mother.

    1. Throughout our life we have experienced the beauty of belonging to the Catholic Church and as I pointed out in the post above ...like a mother the Church has always been there for us... waiting for us with open arms, ready to give us what we need.

  4. Prayers for your family and thank you for so many good ideas. I especially love all the words of the Saints you included in your post.

  5. I'm so sorry about your sister in laws baby. I will pray for your family. I loved reading the "why" behind all your meaningful Lenten traditions. So inspiring! Thanks for sharing! Visiting you from the CWBN hop. Blogging from A Slice of Smith Life :) Have a blessed Lent!

  6. So sorry for the loss of your sister-in-law's baby boy. Beautiful plan for Lenten prayer, fasting and giving! So nice to discover your beautiful blog!

    1. Thank you =), you are very kind! God bless you.

  7. I absolutely adore how you give the Church's teachings and background, and then how you incorporate it into your family life.

    I was sorry to read about your nephew, and I hope your sister and her family will be comforted knowing they have a personal saint interceding on their behalf before God's Almighty Throne.

    Prayers for you and your family this Lent!

    1. Thank you for your prayers. We are one body and it is beautiful to know that there are brothers and sisters in Christ praying for you all over the globe!

  8. Indeed! It is wonderful to know that a member of our family has entered the Kingdom and can intercede for us! Thank you for your prayers, I appreciate it! I love my virtual Christian community!

  9. Your comments on the Church as a mature mother were beautiful. I can't imagine now how I lived without her for so many years.

    1. I don't know how we would do without her! Thank you for your time!

  10. I want write those quotes all over my home so I never got them!! Great gems you found to share! Thank you for this post!!

  11. What a post filled with the richness that is the Catholic church! Thank you for your insight.

  12. Great ideas. We are doing the baby bottle change campaign for lent

    1. This is wonderful! I love this idea, I just looked it up https://www.pacncommunity.org/baby-bottle-campaign/

  13. Lovely post chiara! And I'm so touched by your followers comments on the life and death of our baby boy. Thank you so much all you amazing people for your kind words and prayers, I don't even know you and definitely don't deserve them but they are truly sustaining us in this difficult time!
    God bless you all!
    Lots of love,
    Zarah (little Giuseppe's mother, Chiara's sister in law...)

  14. This is an excellent piece. May the love of the Lord and the sweet fellowship of the holy Spirit be and abide with us both now and forever more. Amen!!

  15. The faith that you've shared with us around the death of your baby nephew is beautiful. It's inspirational.