Sunday, 9 March 2014

1st Sunday of Lent, Shaftesbury

Mt 4:1-11
It's been a long wet winter, and I'm sure that a great many of you, like myself, thought that this week finally began to feel like spring, with some warmth in the sun, and some blue skies -even in the midst of yet more rain!
I want to point out to you today that thoughts of spring are most suitable for us to be thinking of on this First Sunday of Lent, because the word 'Lent' is the old Anglo-Saxon word for 'spring' -both being about different hypes of new growth. Spring: the new plants budding forth; Lent: the new spiritual growth in our souls.

People sometimes think of Lent as dreary, but if we think of it the way that the Church PROPERLY calls us to, then it is the opposite. The Church calls on us in this season to make use of the "three remedies for sin" -a positive outlook talking of "remedies". Those three being: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. So let me look at each of those in turn.

First, prayer. If I wish to grow spiritually, if I wish to bud forth in a way that I have not yet fully done, then I cannot hope to do so alone, I must to do with The Lord. I must do so with prayer. In particular, in this season, I am called to go with The Lord into the desert: He went into the desert for forty days, and so do we in Lent. Forty days of prayer and fasting.

Second, almsgiving: giving to those who are poor and needy. Traditionally the money saved in fasting from food was given to the poor. But we might also note that this giving-to-others is the whole goal of the Christian life: to grow in union with The Lord means to become more loving as He is loving, to give as He gives.

But, there is something within me that STOPS me giving, and this is where fasting comes in as a remedy. As I was reading in the Catechism recently (CCC 2339; 2342-3; 2346), Bl. John Paul II, echoing the Second Vatican Council, taught that: to love someone is to GIVE myself to that person. But I cannot give myself unless I first possess myself, unless I am first master of myself, so "self-mastery" is needed for true love (“self-mastery is ordered to the gift of self”(CCC 2346).
In the disorder in my passions, in what we call "concupiscence", I have all sorts of desires that are inclined to sin, inclined to selfishness. And these passions need to be not only controlled but re-formed, redirected. When I fast, when I deny myself some pleasure, this is exactly what I am doing: I am acquiring self-mastery, and so enabling myself to have that inner freedom in which I am able to give myself to others in love.

Classically, "fasting" meant something major in the tradition. These days, people talk about' "giving something up for Lent", which is a small form of fasting. But even though it is small it is ordered to the same pattern. It frees us from self-slavery to our disordered passions and enables us to love. This is why we "give up" things like alcohol, chocolate, TV, snacks, and so forth.

So to return to spring. 'Spring' and 'Lent' are the same word in old Anglo-Saxon. Both are about growth. We spiritually go into the desert, not alone, not just my willpower, but in prayer with The Lord. That with striving and prayer that we might exit this holy season blossoming even more in the new growth of charity.

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