Fr Robert Barron on LENT
ST SCHOLASTICA ON LENT
Links For Lent
The Great Lent (by HH> Patriarch Batholomew of Constantinople
St Andrew of Crete: THE GREAT CANON OF REPENTANCE
To the faithful clergy and faithful of the Diocese of the West
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(Matthew 6:21, read on Cheesefare Sunday)
On the threshold of our entrance into the Great Fast, our Lord asks us look deep within ourselves, to the very depths of our hearts, and find what is truly there. We hear these words every year, we wonder every year how this moment came back so quickly, we even dread just a little the journey before us.
But the essence of the Fast, the “what” the Church calls us to accomplish, is to find that small, secret place in our hearts that only God and I can see, and sweep it out. Great Lent is not — nor can ever be — only about “how” we accomplish this. Self-denial takes many different forms for each and every single person. Some can fast quite rigorously physically while some can’t. But Lent is not about “doing better things,” although that is certainly one of our hopes.
No, brothers and sisters, Great Lent is about emptying ourselves so that God Himself finally has room to reside in us! Great Lent is the time we put aside the things that occupy so much of our time and effort to seek the “one thing needful” — our Lord Himself and communion with Him.
The world is so turbulent. The Church herself has been turbulent. Our lives are often turbulent. In the storm and noise of life, God Himself cannot be heard over the din. Great Lent is when we put aside the turbulence and, in the peace and quiet that can only come from Him, we are enfolded in His embrace.
Join me in the Lenten effort. May all of us in fasting, repentance and return see the Kingdom made for us in the glorious celebration of the Resurrection. Please forgive me as I do all of you as we enter into the holy days of the Fast.
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA
Rt. Rev. Bishop Benjamin of San Francisco
Yours in Christ,
†Benjamin, Bishop of San Francisco
Lent Conference 2011 7th March 2011
This year there have been so many weeks of Ordinary Time, - what a horrible term that is without reference to anything Christian or Liturgical and how I miss the Sundays after Epiphany - it was beginning to look as if Lent was going to pass us by. Yet, suddenly, out of the blue, here is the Holy Season upon us. Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, the day everyone should go to Confession before Lent begins. Then comes Ash Wednesday, a lone day of fasting and abstinence in splendid isolation from the rest of Lent, during which we no longer observe the ancient traditions of our monastic forebears. I firmly believe that any authentic monastic renewal would have to look seriously at fasting and abstinence. They are not just optional extras to the monastic life but lie at the heart of what we do and who we are.
In the few days leading up to Lent we have been reading at Vigils the Epistle of St James. He emphasises the fact that being a Christian is not a matter of words but of deeds, not of pious thoughts but of action, not of theory wrapped up in spiritual language but of practice. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world,” he writes. “Those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing.” These words remind us of the first reading at Mass on Ash Wednesday from the Prophet Joel, “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”
“Return to the Lord,” that is the fundamental message of Lent. It is only in returning to God, the painful yet cathartic process of conversion, that we will discover what it really means to be a Christian and a monk, what it is God really wants of us, what it is we should be doing in obedience to his holy will, our own particular Way of the Cross that alone leads to salvation. How are we to return to the Lord but with all our heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning? And yet that return has to be an interior movement of the heart and an act of the will, not an ostentatious, outward show. We are to do what Jesus tells his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. “When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who is in secret will reward you.” Of course, it’s not easy to combine fasting in secret with eating in community in a monastic refectory, or indeed to do anything else quietly or privately in a monastery.
However, I do encourage you all to consider some of the traditional Lenten penances and in Chapter 49 of the Holy Rule, which we have just read, St Benedict suggests them to us. In the first place he invites us to live lives of utmost purity, which is a reference not only to the sixth and ninth commandments - that goes without saying - but rather to simplicity, austerity and transparency, putting aside all that is unnecessary and just clutters up our lives. He next suggests that we should wash away the negligences of other times. Yes, how negligent we can be of our monastic duties, both those that pertain to the life of the Community in general, such as the Divine Office and Conventual Mass or our attendance at meals and recreation or the fulfilling of our weekly services, and those we should perform in the privacy of our cell such as Lectio Divina and Mental Prayer. What we find difficult or burdensome throughout the year let us at least be faithful to during Lent. This is why St Benedict isn’t too keen on adding much by way of extra penances and observances. Do what you should be doing for a change, he tells us. All this can be done by “refusing to indulge in evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.”
There can be no doubt that we do grow lukewarm and indifferent about quite important aspects of the monastic life. Perhaps we fail so often that, in the end, we give up trying. Lent is the time to make a fresh start, though not just relying on human effort but rather setting out on a journey of faith by trusting in God and the power of his Spirit within us. We all have untapped sources of spiritual energy and divine grace. It’s a question of allowing God to direct our thoughts and our actions rather than of making a superhuman effort, which never seems to last more than a few days at best. Don’t take on exaggerated exercises for Lent, says St Benedict, but simply “add to the usual measure of your service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink.” Far be it from me to tell you what this “something’ should be. Each one of us has to decide for himself and just get on with it, but please do decide on something before Lent begins and then place it in God’s hands so that your journey through the desert may be a true Exodus from the dead end of selfishness and self-centredness to the boundless joy of living for God. In that way Christ will become the centre of our lives and we will begin at last to live through Him, with Him and in Him. And if Christ is at the very centre, then with Him will be our brethren and the people we serve in our pastoral work. We must fast and abstain, then, from everything that does not lead us to Christ.
Now let all this be done “with the joy of the Holy Spirit,” as St Benedict says, quoting St Paul to the Thessalonians. And let us do it, “looking forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.” There is a specifically monastic way of doing things, particularly of doing those things that others might find unpleasant, a burden or a cross. The key word in Chapter 49 is joy. We are to deny ourselves with joy because, beyond Lent, there lies Easter and the glory of the resurrection just as, beyond this vale of tears, there is heaven and eternal life, the vision of the God who is love and the very source and origin of every joy and blessing. Lent, then, is not a time for feeling sad or depressed. It’s not the end of the world, as some seem to think. The very fact that God has called us to be monks should be the cause of our greatest joy. We certainly lament our failures and our infidelities and we repent of them. But Lent is an opportunity to put things right, to go back to the beginning and to do so in the sure knowledge that God is with us and that, in Christ, he has walked the desert way before us and is now willing to do battle with us and in us against the forces of evil.
I wish you all a very happy Lent. May it be for each one of us a season of joy and fulfilment as we take the road resolutely with Christ, a road that will lead us beyond the forty days and forty nights of fasting and abstinence, temptation and armed combat, to our own passion, death and resurrection in the Lord. It can be a frightening proposition and the great temptation will be to give up and turn back. But if we set out with joy and spiritual longing, anchored above all in prayer and looking forward to holy Easter, and if we do things just one day at a time, then God will reward us with renewed confidence in Him and in ourselves and with peace of mind, that interior peace which is a sure sign of the presence of God. Once again this year Lent is God’s gift to us, a gift that will enable us to grow in faith, hope and charity. To Him be glory and praise now and for ever. Amen.
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