Lent 2019

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, thought like a child, and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways. 1 Corinthians 13:11

A non-Christian friend of mine asked me what I was planning on giving up for Lent this year. I sighed and explained that the idea of giving something up for Lent was a childish expression of our faith. I went on to explain that as an adult, we are called to focus on three main aspects of Lent; almsgiving, prayer and fasting. The problem with approaching Lent as a period of 40 days when we give something up is that more often than not what we are giving up is something we shouldn’t be engaging in anyway, and Lent is not supposed to be a time to work at eradicating bad habits or creating new ones, rather it is about preparing ourselves to be witnesses to Resurrection of Jesus Christ. In an adult faith, Lent is more about adding and enriching than it is about taking away and giving up. Fasting is but one aspect of the Lenten season.

I have three spiritual goals in mind for this Lenten season in order to prepare myself to witness the Resurrection of my Lord and Saviour.

First, I will be setting up the electronic collection plate service with my church. At present, I donate to the church on an ad hoc basis and usually directly into the collection plate each Sunday with whatever change or cash I have in my pocket at the time. Same for my donation for parish events. Part of my Lent this year will be budgeting a percentage of my income to be donated to the church on a bi-monthly basis. This will extend outside of Lent obviously, but I am using my Lenten obligation of almsgiving to establish the rate and the transfers so that I can ensure a steady donation stream into the future.

Second, I will be making a serious effort to pray Morning, Evening and Night prayer from the Roman breviary each day during Lent (including the Sunday feast days, which traditionally are not subject to your Lenten fast). This plays directly into the prayer aspect of Lent and my hope is that I can develop better habits for prayer and making time for more structure prayer in my life. I am drawn particularly to the Liturgy of the Hours for many reasons but the strongest is that the prayer as the breath of the church is tied to the seasons and the mass readings. It really is a wonderful way of sanctifying time, which is a core of the Christian faith (especially in comparison to Eastern faiths).

Third, I will observe specific fast days where I will avoid eating from sunrise to sundown. I would love to go a full day without eating but with my kidney disease, it is not recommended. However, a breakfast in the morning before the sun rises (and after my Morning Prayer) and a late supper once the sun has set will do the trick. I know friends who avoid alcohol and other types of vices, but these are the sort of things that I mentioned earlier should be avoided anyway, so their place during the Lenten season is questionable. Plus I do not drink that much anyway, so it wouldn’t be much of a thing to give up. Avoiding coffee on the days when I fast will be the hardest I would imagine.

I also plan on attending the Stations of the Cross liturgy at my church which adds to the prayer aspect of Lent.

What are your plans for Lent this year?

Friday Week III, Office of the Readings

The first part of psalm 69 that is read in today during the Friday Week III of the Office of the Readings from the Liturgy of the Hours (using the Christian Prayer breviary) really jumped out at me today during my prayer. I would like to share the psalm extract with you here as well as some Lenten flavoured reflections.

Antiphon: I am worn out with crying, with longing for my God.

They offered me a mixture of wine and gall (Matthew 27:34)

Save me, O God,
for the waters have risen to my neck.

I have sunk into the mud of the deep
and there is no foothold.
I have entered the waters of the deep
and the waves overwhelm me.

I am wearied with all my crying,
my throat is parched.
My eyes are wasted away
from looking for my God.

More numerous than the hairs on my head
are those who hate me without cause.
Those who attack me with lies
are too much for my strength.

How can I restore
what I have never stolen?
O God, you know my sinful folly;
my sins you can see.

Let those who hope in your not be put to shame
through me, Lord of hosts;
let not those who seek you be dismayed
through me, God of Israel.

It is for you that I suffer taunts,
that shame covers my face,
that I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother’s sons.
I burn with zeal for your house
and taunts against you fall on me.

When I afflict my soul with fasting
they make it a taunt against me.
When I put on sackcloth in mourning
then they make a byword,
the gossip of men at the gates,
the subject of drunkards’ songs.

What an amazing psalm to read in the middle of the Lenten season! What an insightful and powerful Spirit guided the hand that ordered the Hours in such a way.

Part of my Lenten obligation for this season was a commitment to begin praying the Liturgy of the Hours more completely and in order to do that I reasoned that it was about time to get the prayers off of my phone and into my hands in physical book form. Last week, my Christian Prayer book came in and since that time I have been that busy Catholic with book tabs and prayer cards marking the various points of prayer through out the day. Having the large book and making a real attempt to pray the Hours entirely means that I have to lug the thing around with me wherever I go– including work. Right now the book sits on my desk with me and I have had some people ask about it. A few times I’ve walked around my work with it in my arms (usually headed toward a quiet spot to pray a particular hour) and I’ve heard some sneering. A big thick red book with gilded pages, coloured cloth book tabs and gold lettered “CHRISTIAN PRAYER” in the front, it becomes pretty obvious that I am carrying some sort of religious book around. The prayers themselves have caused me to “burn for zeal for [God’s] house” as we say in the psalm but they have also caused “taunts against [God] to fall on me.” This psalm speaks to me on such a deep level, it actually gave me a little shiver after I read it this morning.

Reflecting on the Way of the Cross this Lent (which is something I try and do each Wednesday after Low Mass in the evening), Jesus calls us to take up the cross and pick up the yoke. He assures us that “my burden is light” but the devil is literally in the details here, because the Evil One is the reason Christ has to remind us that the burden is light. Satan is always there to make things far worse, or rather seem far worse than they really are. But this psalm put that reluctance and that struggle into context and by context I mean it puts it right at the feet of Christ Himself. This is more than just a poem complaining about life, this is a person reaching up toward the Heavens and calling out to God, placing their burden and their own struggle at the feet of God. What a powerful and moving sentiment. What a perfect image for the middle of Lent when our obligations and our own temptations are beginning to mount.

During this Lenten season there is no doubt in my mind that when you fast you will be taunted. When you wear sackcloth and mourn and deny yourself certain pleasures in the face of those who take no issue indulging during the Lent season, you will be taunted and call out. You will be made to feel small and worthless and made to feel as if the waters are indeed rising all around you. Your throat will become red and raw from crying out to God but this is what we are meant to do, this is how we deal with struggle in our faith. We lift up, we reach up and we lay our struggles at the feet of the Lord.

I feel that it is appropriate to end this reflection with the prayer from Morning Prayer (Friday, Third Week of Lent), which also the prayer I used today to close out the Office of the Readings.

Merciful Father,
fill our hearts with your love
and keep us faithful to the gospel of Christ.
Give us the grace to rise above our human weakness.
Grant this thought our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.