Sarah Hanley

The three pillars of Lent are a road map for life.

When we consider those pillars, which are prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we understand that the season of Lent is not uniquely about the 40 days leading up to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is, in fact, a road map for how we, as children of God, should conduct our lives.

These three tenets as laid down in Matthew 6:1-18 show us how to live life every day. They remind us that our baptismal vows ask us to know Christ better and follow his will more faithfully all the time. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving should be a regular part of who we are.

When we think of prayer, instinctively we know it begins in the heart, in silent communion with God. How we think and feel are important parts of our connection to God. It is better, Jesus tells us, to have a sincere devotion to him in our hearts than to have a show of prayer for other people’s benefit. When we pray, we should pray simply and with heartfelt acceptance of the Father’s Word.


When we think of fasting we think of deprivation and doing without. Can it be concluded then that we must do without to be closer to God? I do not think so. Instead, it suggests generosity of spirit and empathy of the human condition. It shows that in the paucity of food we can understand the feeling of those less fortunate than ourselves.

Pope Francis counsels that “those who fast make themselves poor with the poor and accumulate the treasure of a love both received and shared. In this way, fasting helps us to love God and our neighbor, inasmuch as love, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, is a movement outward that focuses our attention on others and considers them as one with ourselves.”

So that in fasting we learn to love our neighbor and in loving our neighbor we are closer to God.

When we think of almsgiving it seems old-fashioned somehow. But what is “almsgiving,” really? The word alms is derived from the Latin for mercy and pity. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tell us that when we give alms we should give with compassion for those in need.

If we profess good works but our motivations are selfish we do not do God’s work. If we do good deeds for other people’s approval we are not giving alms. In our heart, we should love our neighbor, even the least fortunate, and in that love, we should extend to them every fortune at our disposal. This, Jesus tells us, is almsgiving. It is a way of life, a way of loving God, and a way to live every day.

As we move through Lent this year, let’s keep in mind that Lent is a road map for how we will conduct ourselves throughout the year. At the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia, our mission is to grow philanthropy according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. We are grounded in the principles of faith and service.

It’s up to us to show kindness, compassion, generosity and hope. It’s our job to willingly share our many blessings with each other all year long. We hope that you will share your many blessings as well.


Sarah Hanley is the president and CEO of the Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia.