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Preparing for Lent: Why We Pray, Fast, and Give

By: Father Matthew Gill on February 13th, 2024

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Preparing for Lent: Why We Pray, Fast, and Give

Learn more about our faith  |  family prayer  |  Lenten practices

This week, we begin Lent with Ash Wednesday. A week or two ago, I was speaking with someone who was saying, “I’m not ready for Lent…”. Winter is dragging on, I’m ready for spring, and now we have this season of penance. But I encouraged them to make Lent their favorite season — lean into it — ask God for a love for Lent.      

Starting on Ash Wednesday, we will begin 40+ days of prayer, fasting, and giving alms (charity). Have you ever wondered why these three particular practices for Lent? Why do we sacrifice something? Why do we give alms? Why do we work on deepening our prayer life? Well, in order to understand that, we need to go back to the very beginning, back to the Garden of Eden.



 “Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?”  


Notice the devil is twisting God’s words. God never said that; it was only one tree. The devil is a master deceiver; he tells Adam and Eve, you won’t die; you’ll be fine. As a matter of fact ... you are going to be like gods.   

And then we’re told that Eve looks over to the tree. She sees that the fruit was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. Doesn’t that seem oddly specific for a little piece of fruit?  


Three-fold Temptations of Eden


The saints have explained that a lot is happening beneath the surface here. They explain that there’s a three-fold temptation: the fruit was good for food, a temptation for pleasure for the senses. It was also pleasing to the eyes. Think about when we say, “It caught my eye. It means that I saw that thing and wanted it; I wanted to have it."  

And lastly, the fruit was desirable for gaining wisdom. Remember where Adam and Eve see the fruit and the name of the tree—The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In other words, the devil tells them that You will be like gods, and they won’t need him. You will become the judge of good and evil.




These three characteristics of the fruit are known as the three-fold concupiscence and the three-fold temptation: the desire for excessive pleasure, the desire to have or possess, and the sin of pride.   


Temptation of Christ


Now, it’s true that the devil is clever and very intelligent. But often enough, he sticks to the same script with these three basic temptations. He just dresses them up differently. Move forward to the three temptations of Christ in the desert. Did you know they’re the same three temptations?

After being in the desert for 40 days, our Lord experiences the same three basic temptations. “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” What does that sound like? The first temptation of the senses.  

Next, we’re told that the devil took him up to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” What is this temptation? It’s the temptation to earthly goods, an earthly power.

And finally, we’re told that the devil takes him to Jerusalem, to the top of the Temple, and says, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. And he quotes Psalm 91, “The angels will catch you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” How is this a temptation? What’s going on here? It’s a temptation to pride, to be a messiah who performs flashy stunts to win people over. But as impressive as that might have been, it wouldn’t change people’s hearts. Christ is not a celebrity messiah but one who serves and suffers for us. And that love of washing feet and laying down his life on the cross, that’s what will change hearts.




So, what does this have to do with Lent? Well, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are the antidotes, the remedies to these three temptations. Fasting, giving up something, helps us to say no to our sense desires. When we give alms or perform acts of mercy, we counteract that desire for riches and possessions. And prayer is the remedy to pride because it brings us to our knees before God.


Seven Deadly Sins


And if you look deeper into this three-fold temptation, what else will you see? These are the roots of the seven deadly sins! The first temptation of the senses includes gluttony, lust, and sloth. 

What about the second temptation, that of the eyes? Well, that’s covetousness, wanting to possess something. And, of course, there’s the third temptation, which includes pride and envy. [*Note: anger is also included in the three-fold concupiscence, but it takes a bit of explanation, so we’ll cover that another time]. 

Not only that, but these three practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are also the medicine to broken relationships. Prayer strengthens my relationship with God. Almsgiving strengthens my relationship with my neighbor.  And fasting corrects my relationship with myself, so I’m not subject to my whims.  

During this upcoming Lent, I encourage you to lean into these Lenten practices. Choose three things for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that are going to be challenging and that will help you to grow in holiness this Lent. Lean in and embrace the Fridays of Lent when we give up meat and the flesh of animals because Christ gave up his flesh for us on Good Friday. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving: our resistance to the three-fold temptation, the antidote to the seven deadly sins, and the healing of our relationships with God, our neighbor, and ourselves.

About Father Matthew Gill

Father Matthew Gill is a priest in the Diocese of Fall River, MA. He is currently assigned as pastor of Holy Family parish in East Taunton. Father Matt also serves as chaplain to a Hispanic community and local Catholic school. During his free time, you can find him playing jazz and funk with priest friends in his band, Vatican III.