Saturday, 14 February 2015

Keeping a good and fruitful Lent - part 5

The third traditional expression of penance or conversion is called "almsgiving". This is not simply making sure we put a coin in a charity tin (although there is nothing wrong in doing this of course). It is important that we use our financial resources to the glory of God. Lent can be a time for us to assess how we use those resources. The reason for this is that the way we spend our money can reveal something about our priorities in life. One very good exercise is to look at a bank statement or two and go through the items reflecting on how it might say something about our priorities. As all our wealth is ultimately God's, and we have it as custodians, we need to remind ourselves that we need to justify our use of His resources and say sorry when we misuse them. We also need to ask ourselves on a regular basis, "what does my Lord want me to do with His resources that I have?" Of course He wants us to have a good and healthy life, and He is not against us enjoying ourselves. But have we been too lavish in spending on selfish things? And too frugal in spending on others? We also need to remember we need to give realistically to the Church so that its mission and purpose can be fulfilled in the world.
More generally we can also usefully reflect on our lives by how we spend the time we have been given. And I think there is nothing better than the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy (above) if we are ever at a loss as to what to do for the Lord.
Lenten counsel no 5 - have a little spiritual audit of how you are spending your money, asking how much is selfish and how much benefits others. Remember it is not actually your bank account but the Lord's! He will ask you one day to give an account! Also think about your use of time - and perhaps think of a Work of Mercy to do each day.
Fr Ian

Friday, 13 February 2015

Keeping a good and fruitful Lent - part 4

On prayer - disciplines to do with our relationship to God
Prayer is the second traditional expression of inner penance or conversion. And as with fasting it is easy to overstretch ourselves at the beginning of Lent. I would suggest that first we consider how often we pray during the day, rather than the quantity of solid prayer, which can then come naturally.
Imagine a rolling landscape with electricity pylons carrying high tension cables. The pylons have to be spaced taking into consideration the shape of the land. If they are too far apart the cable will droop to the ground and the power fail. Now consider your daily life, and the pylons as times to pray and connect with God. What I suggest is that we need times of prayer throughout the day according to the landscape of the day, i.e. what sort of thing we are doing.
When we rise in the morning we could pray an acclamation of praise (e.g. "Glory to you; glory to you, O Lord.") And then offer God the day to come for His glory. You could also ask for His help in things that you are concerned about.
At meal times we thank God for the gift of our food and ask Him to bless the food.
Whenever we walk we can pray a suitable repeated prayer. I use the Jesus prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I might sometimes offer the prayer for someone I pass by in the street.
Around 9am 'ish we could pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit, as 9am (the third hour) was the time the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples on Pentecost. We might know a tradional prayer to the Holy Spirit and pray it.
At midday we might recall that our Lord was nailed to the cross and was lifted up. We might offer to God a prayer of adoration and praise for our redemption in Christ. E.g. "We adore you O Christ, and we bless you, here and in all the churches throughout the world, for by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world."
Similarly we might remember Our Lord's death (at 3pm) and give thanks that He died for love of our love. We could pray for the needs of others, and say a Hail Mary for them.
At any time we have 20 minutes free we could pray the Rosary.
At any time we could open a Bible/Missal and reflect on God's word most especially something from the Mass readings of the day. (These can be found on and elsewhere online). You could visit this blog where there will be a short reflection on the readings of the day.
One or more times a week we could visit the Blessed Sacrament in a Catholic Church near by. This can be a little pilgrimage. A time to adore our Saviour Jesus Christ in the most holy sacrament of the altar.
Attending Mass is of course the summit of prayer, where we bring the sufferings and prayers of our daily life and offer them to Christ in His sacrifice on the Cross, where He transforms them, and offers Himself to us in the Blessed Sacrament.
Lenten counsel no 4: With discipline in prayer, do not try to do too much all at once. Don't set yourself up to fail. Build things up gradually and sustainably. Spread prayer throughout the day in a way that you can manage and which means you keep in touch with the Lord of your life.
Fr Ian

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Guide to keeping a good and fruitful Lent - Part 3

More on fasting
So as we consider the practice of fasting in Lent we need to be careful. Fasting is fashionable at the moment. Whether it is the 5-2 fasting diet or whatever, fasting in some form is "in". However from a spiritual point of view fasting can be dangerous for beginners in the spiritual life (which most of us are) - because if we launch ourselves in to some radical form of fasting it can so easily increase pride. As we all know pride is the deadliest of sins.
Just recently I was at a talk by a very experienced spiritual director who said that fasting practices (except the ones prescribed for all Catholics) shouldn't be considered until some other groundwork has been done. 
First of all we need to bring order to our lives. Eg. do we rise at a regular and sensible time each day? Do we retire at a sensible time each evening? Do we moderate all our appetites sensibly? Do we have regular, sensible and healthy meals? Or do we base too much of our lives upon whims and fancies? Do we plan our day prudently? Or do we leave things to chance?
Bringing order to our daily lives can greatly help us to gradually become more self-disciplined, which is the practical aim of fasting. This more subtle form of fasting (fasting from whims and fancies) also has the benefit of not encouraging pride - they are little modifications after all!
Lenten counsel number 3 - before considering a difficult fast, ask yourself, "Am I disciplined in my daily routine, or do I live the day mostly according to my whims and fancies?" If your days are not planned prudently then making them so is the first step of fasting. In other words, build up self-discipline by fasting from your whims and fancies.
Fasting together
The other traditional counsel regarding fasting is that it should be communal. The Roman Rite of the Catholic Church requires us to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, between the ages of 18 and 60 years. Sea-farers are exempt. Although Canon Law does not specify exactly the nature of the fast, traditionally it has been one normal meal, and up to two cold collations. These collations should be very spartan and just enough to get by on. One may not eat meat on these days either. There is to be no fasting or abstinence on Solemnities of the Church's Year. What we drink is not affected by the fasting rule.
On every Friday of the year Catholics (between 14 and 60 years) must abstain from meat, except on Solemnities (this is for England and Wales).
Throughout Lent Catholics are required to perform some act of penance each day (prayer, work of piety/charity, deny themselves, fulfil obligations more faithfully).

So this Lent why not express the inner conversion by bringing more order to your life, and following the communal fasting rules of the Church more faithfully?
Fr Ian
See Code of Canon Law 1249 - 1253 for the law on fasting for Catholics.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

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.
Fr Ian
For convenience here is our Lord's teaching on these three:
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.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Guide to keeping a fruitful Lent - pt 1

It is easy to get carried away at the beginning of Lent. We might think of all sorts of spiritual or ascetic practices and think that is what Lent is all about. I want to challenge you not to just say, "Oh I'll give up chocolate", or whatever it is, as a little sacrifice for Lent. I want to challenge you to look a bit deeper into what Lent is really about and to reflect on some principles that should underpin what you decide to do for Lent.
The word 'Lent', I am told, comes from an old English word which means Spring. And this can be a helpful start. Lent is the Church's season for a springtime of the soul. It is a time for the dead things to fall away and the new to spring forth in healthy growth.
We need to begin Lent confident that our Lord Jesus Christ wants us to be renewed in Him, and that He sends His Holy Spirit to the Church to renew her. And that means each and every one of us.
In order to get to the first principles of Lent, the word to properly grasp is conversion. Any Christian renewal in the Church must be about conversion.
This is not a one-off event, but an on-going process for most of us. The key to renewal is conversion, and there are two sides to it: there is a turning away, and, a turning towards. We turn away from all that is away from Christ, and we turn towards all that is of Christ, in fact, Christ Himself. For there to be renewal in our Lent, in our spring-time, there must be a falling away of the dead things, and a turning towards the life-giving. Christ called this "repent and believe". This was His principle exhortation as He proclaimed the Kingdom of God. So fundamentally we repent of sin and we turn to Christ. We turn away from all that is deathly (i.e. sin, selfishness, evil etc), and we turn towards that which is life-giving (i.e. Jesus Christ the Light and Saviour of the world).
Lenten Counsel No 1: Jesus' call to conversion does not aim at outward works but at the conversion of the heart, or interior conversionWithout inner conversion, outward penances remain sterile and false.
However, interior conversion will be expressed in visible signs, gestures and works of penance. So we are not saying here, that conversion is restricted to the private and interior self, but that this is where it must begin. This interior place, which is called the heart, is the source of our actions, decisions, and over time our character. So when the heart is converted, when it repents of sin and turns to Christ, everything in life is affected.
So our Lenten practices should be focused on conversion, the conversion of our hearts, away from sin and to Christ our Lord.
[Read more about this at CCC 1430-1433 in your Catechism, or here: ]
Tomorrow we shall look at the three traditional expressions of conversion.
Fr Ian

DAY NINE (Eve of Pentecost)