Guide to keeping a good Lent - Part 2
As I suggested yesterday, we can think of Lent as a kind of springtime for our souls. A time for both dead things passing away, and for new growth to spring up. This twofold aspect to the season matches our Lord's exhortation to "repent and believe", found in His preaching of the Kingdom. We also saw that "conversion" is a key concept for Lent.
"Okay", we might say, "I want to make Lent this year a springtime for my soul - how?"
First we turn to Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition (especially the early Church Fathers) who say interior penance/conversion can be expressed in three classic ways: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. See our Lord's teaching in St Matthew's Gospel (Mt 6: 1-18).
These three classic expressions of conversion pertain to three areas of our lives: of oneself, to God, and to others.
So by fasting we bring under our control the bodily appetites. By fasting from certain things we build up our capacity for self-control. This is all about the inner conversion of ourselves. Unless we voluntarily order ourselves and our lives, disorder and chaos will prevail, and we become subject to our bodily appetites rather than be masters of them.
And in prayer we express our conversion to God. We willingly give over time to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We frequently put everything in reference to God.
And then in almsgiving we express the inner conversion of our relationship with our neighbour. Obviously this can be to do with charitable giving, but not only that. Almsgiving also includes other expressions of our compassion and charity towards others, not least in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Lenten counsel number 2: Think of the three aspects of Lenten discipline pertaining to myself (self-control), my relationship with God (practice of prayer) and my relationship with my neighbour (charity to fellow man). Reflect on them and think of what needs to change in your life. Ask God for the grace to take up your Lenten discipline.
For convenience here is our Lord's teaching on these three:
Matthew 6 vv 1-18
Matthew 6 vv 1-18
1* "Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 "Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4* so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5* "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 7* "And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. 8* Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. 9* Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread; * 12 And forgive us our debts, As we also have forgiven our debtors; 13* And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil. * 14* For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; 15 but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
16* "And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18* that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.