Sunday, 16 March 2014
One of the seminarians asked me recently how Lent was going, and instead of saying, "Fine, thank you", I actually told him! I said it's been a tough Lent. To which he replied that that was a shame, because we are only just past the first week, with five more weeks to go!
And I AM struggling: That giving up sugar in my tea, that giving up the slice of cake that would have kept it company, that manifestly palatable red wine with the luncheon of the clergy gathering on Tuesday -and I won't even mention the chocolate mouse that someone considerately thought to provide at the end of it.
So the seminarian offered to console me with a nightcap of whiskey -but I'd taken that off the agenda too!
So, I was glad to recall the readings the Church gives us for this Sunday, to HELP keep us going.
The readings speak to us of a FUTURE glory to spur us onwards.
In our Gospel text we heard how Peter, James, and John were given a sight of The Lord Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop. They saw Him in glory. They saw Him, in a glimpse at least, saw Him as He would look in heaven.
That is the vision that is supposed to sustain all Christians. Sustain as we carry our crosses through life. Sustain as we bear our penance a through Lent.
And our opening prayer referring to how EVEN NOW we see this glory with the “spiritual sight” of faith,
The spiritual sight that comes by HEARING, that comes by accepting the testimony of those witnesses who saw it, just as the voice from heaven had similarly said to them: "listen to Him"(Mt 17:5)
There is a problem, however, with this ‘seeing’, and it’s a problem that comes back to my attachment to my earthly pleasures, all those things I’ve given up for Lent:
My attachment to these EARTHLY things stops me seeing clearly the HEAVENLY things,
The earthly attachment CLOUDS my vision.
Part of the reason I need to give up some earthly pleasures in Lent is to help me grow in detachment, is to remind myself that the REAL destination I am heading for is BEYOND this world, and if my heart is only set on pleasures here below then I'll fail to properly orient myself to get to that goal.
“Detachment” from this world, so the saints all tell us, is essential for attachment to the future world, to God.
In our first reading we heard how Abraham was called to leave the country he lived in, the only country he knew, and head off for a new land that God promised him, a land he knew nothing about.
I have to leave my chocolate, and snacks, and alcohol, and sugar, if I am to get to something better.
In fact, I have to leave them if I am to even SEE that land spiritually, let alone if I am to get there.
I, at least, have to leave them aside for Lent, and so help by heart get free for those better things.
To sum up, there is a cyclical thing going on here:
I am given a vision of future glory to help keep me going through my Lenten penance;
I need to keep up my Lenten penance in order to see more clearly that vision that leads me on.
So, if you’re struggling too:
Remember the vision of future glory, that makes it worth fasting, makes it worth ‘giving things up for Lent’;
And remember that giving those things up will help free you inwardly to see better the glory that lies ahead.
Sunday, 9 March 2014
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.
Thursday, 6 March 2014
The practice of ‘giving something up for Lent’ is an important way of fasting. Fasting is good for us for four reasons:
First, at a human level, like dieting, fasting disciplines our desires. The things of this world are good, but we frequently want them in a way that is bad for us, or we want the wrong things at the wrong time. We need to discipline our desires, and this is what fasting does. This doesn’t mean we fast continually: Christians have feast days as well as fast days, but fasting enables discipline.
Second, at a supernatural level, more than mere dieting, fasting is a prayer. It thus needs to be offered to God; ‘offer your very bodies as a living sacrifice acceptable to God’ (Rom 12:1). In particular, fasting is something we can offer for our sins: in atonement and reparation for past sins, by uniting them to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. In general, fasting is something we can offer as a prayer for matters of great importance, as Christ told his disciples that some things can only be achieved by ‘prayer and fasting’ (Mk 9:29). Also, during Lent, uniting prayer and fasting imitates our Lord who both prayed and fasted in his 40 days in the Desert. Fasting without praying can sometimes just make us grumpy and disagreeable!
Third, fasting (and any form of penance) is also a means of detachment: when we deny ourselves some form of pleasure we help to detach ourselves from it; this helps to orient ourselves more on God and less on earthly things.
Fourth, fasting can change the way we act towards others. If we’re purifying and detaching ourselves, then we should be more free to love. One way we do this is by the traditional Lenten practice of giving to the poor.
Finally, this can be summed up by noting the Church’s threefold Lenten remedy for sin: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (giving to the poor). These three should all go together, not in opposition, i.e. it’s not enough to say, ‘Oh, I’m not giving up things, I’m doing something positive!’ Each of us would do well to add a small part of each of these three to our Lenten season: add a small prayer to your usual daily or weekly routine, give something up for Lent, and give some money to a good charity.
Do Sundays Count in Lent?
I sometimes get asked, as I was asked again this week, whether you have to continue ‘giving things up’ on Sundays as well as weekdays in Lent. In general I would answer, “Yes, Sundays are a part of Lent”. Like the other days of Lent, Sundays of Lent have purple vestments, no Gloria, and no Alleluias.
That said, if you’re spending Lent fasting on just bread and water (as many did in the early Church) then you might relax this on Sunday to nourish yourself for the coming week. But if you’re spending Lent doing something much less significant (like no alcohol or no dessert) then you probably need to ‘give it up’ on Sundays too in order to bring it to something a little more substantial.
Either way, whether you choose to count Sundays in or count Sundays out, I’d suggest that you decide this at the start of Lent not half-way through so that you pick a resolution and stick to it.
Sunday, 2 March 2014
I don't have the text of it, but here are photos of the two pages of the new Bishop's first pastoral letter: