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“EVEN A FEEBLE LENT OF BROKEN RESOLUTIONS MAY BY GOD’S GRACE BRING ABOUT A CHANGE IN ME”

“THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING THE TEMPTATIONS OF JESUS

Jesus’ own period of 40 days in the desert introduces us to the meaning of Lent, for the experience of Jesus can itself only be understood in relation to the Israelites’ 40 years in the desert. Exodus recounts the story of how, by a gratuitous act of love on God’s part, in fidelity to a promise he made long ago – a promise which would seen to be all empty by reason of the years and the suffering which have intervened – God allows Israel to escape from the slavery of Egypt to worship him in the wilderness. There the Lord offers them a covenant on Sinai. He feeds them miraculously and even overlooks their worshipping a golden calf to bring them at last to the Promised Land.

NOT SEEKING TO ISOLATE OURSELVES FROM GOD BY MATERIAL SECURITY

Now we have the key to understanding the temptations of Jesus: the temptation to worship the Devil, the temptation to turn stones into bread, the temptations to power. These would all be temptations like those of his ancestors, to somehow want to be self-reliant, whereas the wilderness experience is about discovering the only true freedom: a total reliance on God expressed in worship of him, fidelity to his law and an essential love of poverty, of a depending on him for my how am I to live, not seeking once to isolate myself from him by material security.

THE ONLY TRUE FREEDOM: TOTAL RELIANCE ON GOD

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are all to teach me reliance on God and solidarity with those who suffer. They are to make space in me for knowledge of my poverty and tame my ego a bit. Even a feeble Lent, a Lent of broken resolutions, might by God’s grace bring about a change in me if I am forced to admit how weak is my will, how shallow my religiosity, and how deep and real my need for God’s mercy. Remember that wonderful Chesterton paradox used to describe a saint: ‘A saint can be recognised by the fact that he knows himself to be a sinner.’

‘LOOK NOT ON OUR SINS, BUT ON THE FAITH OF YOUR CHURCH’

Just as Jesus needed to immerse himself the story of Israel, the story of God’s miraculous saving in history, so Lent is a time of identifying myself more fully with the Church, to experience in this time the miraculous effects the saving God wishes to bring about in my own history, particularly through the miraculous signs and wonders of the sacraments. This is not merely a personal journey, but also a collective one for the whole Church, a time to remember the prayer which precedes Communion which asks God to look ‘not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church’. It is also a time to remember that however weak or sinful I may feel I am supported by the merits and intercession of the whole Church. Together as part of the Chosen People we will rejoice in the arrival at the Promised Land of Easter.

LOOK TO THE HORIZON AND JUST KEEP GOING

We will welcome the newly baptised at Easter and share in the joy of the salvation they have been promised. Exodus also reminds us that salvation has a history: it does not happen all at once. We are on a journey. The direction of travel is all-important, and the wonderful promise of the destination allows one to lift the eyes to the horizon and slog on, even when the going is touch and we lament what must be left behind.”
– This is an excerpt of “Diary of a City Priest”, by Pastor Iuventus, (available from Amazon) which was published in “The Catholic Herald” issue March 14 2014. For subscriptions please visit http://www.catholicherald.co.uk (external link).

 

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THE HALLMARKS OF CHRISTIAN LIVING

“The fruit of conversion is two-fold: a life centred on Christ, rather than on oneself, and a life which expresses itself in generosity towards others. These are the hallmarks of Christian living.

Jesus offered himself to the Father for our sake. We model ourselves on him.

During Lent we are in intensified training for this selfless style of life. Our training consists in the practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Each creates more space in us for God, more desire in us for love, more time in us for others.

These practices help our conversion to the Lord to take deeper root in our daily lives and become its unshakeable pattern or habit. These practices also enable us to take up our daily cross and carry it with courage, dignity and a generous heart.

This is our Lenten challenge.”

– This short meditation was published in “A Lenten Journey of Prayer for 2009” by AlivePublishing. For information about their booklets, please visit http://www.alivepublishing.co.uk (external link).

 

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20th MARCH, GOSPEL READING (LUKE 16:19-31)

GOOD THINGS CAME YOUR WAY, JUST AS BAD THINGS CAME THE WAY OF LAZARUS. NOW HE IS BEING COMFORTED HERE WHILE YOU ARE IN AGONY.

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

“In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his bosom. So he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.’ ‘My son,’ Abraham replied, ‘remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.’

“The rich man replied, ‘Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.’ ‘They have Moses and the prophets,’ said Abraham, ‘let them listen to them.’ ‘Ah no, father Abraham,’ said the rich man, ‘but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said to him, ‘If they will not listen either to Moses or the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.’”

V. The Gospel of the Lord.
R. Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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“FACING THE FUNDAMENTAL CHALLENGES WHICH JESUS PUTS BEFORE US” – THE ARCHBISHOP’S LETTER AT THE BEGINNING OF LENT

“THE MOST REVEREND PETER SMITH L.L.B., J.C.D., K.C.*H.S.
ARCHBISHOP OF SOUTHWARK,
ARCHBISHOP’S HOUSE, 150 ST. GEORGE’S ROAD, SOUTHWARK, LONDON, SE1 6HX [United Kingdom]

Pastoral Letter to be read
at the beginning of Lent 2014

My Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Last Wednesday we began the season of Lent; an opportunity the Church gives us every year for conversion and renewal – conversion of mind, heart and action so that we can better fulfil the two great commandments: ‘You must love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind and strength… You must love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Mk 12:30-31) It is a time for us to rediscover the joy of the Gospel and to be ‘set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.’ (Evangelii Gaudium 1) In this year’s Lenten message to the Church throughout the world, Pope Francis prays that ‘…this Lenten season may find the whole Church ready to bear witness, to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution, the Gospel message of the merciful love of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ. We can do this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty. Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.’

Lent is a season of prayer, fasting and practical concern for those in need. It offers all of us an opportunity to prepare for Easter by a serious discernment about our lives, with particular attention to the word of God which enlightens the daily journey of all who believe. So our particular focus in Lent must be first of all on God, not ourselves. Secondly it must be on our neighbour who is in need, because in that neighbour we are called to look with compassion on the face of the suffering Christ and try to alleviate his suffering.

So, we might fruitfully spend our Lent by reading the gospels and facing the fundamental challenges which Jesus puts before us. Then we might ask ourselves some challenging questions. Does my life reflect an evident commitment to the exhortation given to us on Ash Wednesday to ‘turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel’? Does my love and compassion truly embrace the poorest and the most needy, or am I selective in giving of myself, and the riches God has given to me, only to those whom I know and like? Do I really pursue the path of reconciliation, or do I allow prejudice and bigotry to promote the rejection and rubbishing of those whom I dislike? Do I give of my time and talents to help build up my local community, to welcome the stranger and those in need?

Our response to these questions must be rooted in our love for the person of Jesus Christ, and in his command to each of us that we must love one another as he has first loved us. The season of Lent is given to us so that we can open our hearts once again to God and to each other with renewed generosity and compassion. But we can’t do that solely through our own efforts. We can only respond fruitfully with the help of the Holy Spirit. As Pope Francis said in his homily to the newly appointed Cardinals two weeks ago in Rome: ‘… we are called to listen to the Holy Spirit who enlivens and guides the Church. By his creative and renewing power, the Spirit always sustains the hope of God’s People as we make our pilgrim way through history.’ He went on to say that ‘… whilst we tend to be so selfish and proud… the Holy Spirit is able to purify, transform and shape us day by day. To make the effort to be converted, to experience a heartfelt conversion: this is something that all of us – especially you Cardinals and myself – must do.’

Listening to those words made me pause and reflect on the goodness of God and how fortunate most of us are. We have so much to thank God for. Most of us have homes and jobs and families, good friends and supportive relationships. Many of us have more than sufficient to meet our material and spiritual needs. Yet I am also very conscious that there are people both here in our own country and abroad who are not so fortunate. I am aware that there are many people who are vulnerable, defenceless and poor. For these, the beauty of life and the joy of living are obscured by suffering, by fear, and by great need, both material and spiritual. The danger in Lent is that we can focus in the wrong way on ourselves and the particular ways we choose to live out this penitential Season. The purpose of Lent is to open our hearts to the life-giving Word of God who, in quiet prayer and reflection, will reveal to us the truth about ourselves, our motives, and our priorities in life. All that we do in Lent, our prayer, our fasting and our almsgiving are means to this end – not ends in themselves. The end and purpose of Lent is to allow God’s grace to change us so that we truly ‘repent and believe the Good News’; so that we become ever more aware that ‘the Kingdom of God is close at hand’ and confidently live out and proclaim that Gospel to the people of our times.

In May this year we shall be gathering in the three areas of the Diocese to reflect on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, ‘Evangelii Gaudium’. These will be gatherings of the clergy, religious and laity to begin to discern how we respond to Pope Francis’ call for the conversion and renewal of the whole Church, and how better to proclaim the Gospel with confidence to those who have yet to hear it. I encourage you to come to these gatherings, and to make this Lent a real preparation for these meetings so that we can all respond generously to the challenge which Pope Francis has given us.

Wishing you every blessing for Lent
and an assurance of my prayers for you all,

+ Peter

Archbishop of Southwark

Given at Southwark, 25th February 2014”

 

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GOING THE EXTRA MILE – LENT FOR BEGINNERS

GOD LIVES IN US AND HIS LOVE IS MADE COMPLETE IN US (1 John 4:12).

“During Lent we are invited to take up the ancient disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, not as ends in themselves but because through them we come to know God’s love.

In this we need to be practical and realistic.

Regarding prayer: Try and devote some time to be with the Lord during the day. Ideally first thing in the morning, but do the best you can.

Concerning fasting: Grand gestures and great feats are not called for. Small acts of denial during the day, but not just food – deny yourself the urge to gossip, or to give in to despair.

Finally almsgiving. [Giving money, food, time, effort etc. without earthly reward.] Be generous. God loves a cheerful giver. Give from the heart. Go the extra mile. God will bless and reward us.”
– by AlivePublishing, “A Lenten Journey of Prayer for 2013”. For information about their booklets please visit http://www.alivepublishing.co.uk (external link)

 

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ASH WEDNESDAY MEDITATION: “LENT IS A PRIVILEGED TIME”

• “Conversion is not just a human work but is the movement of a humble and contrite heart.

• ‘Your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you’ (Matthew 6:6)

• Lent is a privileged time. It is a time of grace and blessing. It offers a God-given moment to explore more deeply the meaning of our Christian lives. This holy season can stimulate us to rediscover God’s love, his mercy and forgiveness. In coming to know God’s love, mercy and forgiveness we become more merciful, kind and forgiving towards others. The ancient disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are not ends in themselves or a reason for us to feel superior or better than others. We pray, fast and give alms because we are beggars before God and through these practices we draw close to our heavenly Father.

• Heavenly Father, I bow down before you because you so loved the world that you sent your one and only Son.

• Our Father…, Ten Hail Marys…, Glory Be…

• Today my prayer is for…”
– This meditation was published in “A Lenten Journey of Prayer for 2013” by AlivePublishing. For information about their booklets please visit http://www.alivepublishing.co.uk (external link).

 

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THE WHOLE OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE IS BASED UPON THE CROSS – THE FOUR DIMENSIONS OF THE CROSS

THE MYSTERY OF THE CROSS IN THE FOUR DIMENSIONS

“The cross, the glory of the divine Redeemer, must be the boast also of his disciples, as St Paul admonishes and – St Augustine continues – it must be so since all of us ‘are upon it.’ The whole of the Christian life is based upon the cross, as upon a firm edifice, and the Bishop of Hippo, by his marvellous contemplation, takes pleasure in revealing the mystical meaning of the four dimensions of that blessed wood: the width, length, height and depth.

[By St Augustine of Hippo]

‘Listen to the Apostle saying to you, ‘But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Let us too make it our boast, if only because we lean totally upon it. Let us all glory in it, o good brethren; in it may we glory. Perhaps it is there that we shall find both width, and length, and height, and depth. These words of the Apostle, you see, somehow set up the cross before our very eyes. It shows, in fact, the width in which the hands are nailed; it shows the length, as the trunk inclines from there to the ground; it also shows the height, since from the same transversal trunk to which the hands are nailed, it protrudes somewhat and there the head of the Crucified One is placed; it shows also the depth, which means to say, the part that is fixed into the ground and which remains unseen. Consider the great mystery. From that depth, which is unseen, is raised on high all that may be seen.

THE WIDTH, THE LENGTH AND THE HEIGHT OF THE CROSS

So where is the width? Turn your mind to the life and behaviour of the Saints, who say, ‘Far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ We find in their way of life and behaviour the width of charity; which is why the Apostle himself gives this advice: ‘Open yourselves wide, lest you should be bearing the yoke with unbelievers.’ And from the moment that he exhorted them to open their hearts, listen to what he adds: ‘Our mouth is open towards you with sincerity, Corinthians; our heart is completely open.’ It follows, therefore, that the width means charity, which alone fulfils good works. The width shows that God loves those who give with joy. In reality if someone finds himself to be in dire straits, he will give reluctantly; if he will give and be at the same time afflicted by this, what he gives will be lost. Generosity of love, therefore, is necessary, so that your good deeds will not be lost. But because the Lord said, ‘When iniquity abounds, the charity of many will grow cold,’ he gave me also length.

What is meant by length? ‘Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.’ This is the length of the cross, where the whole body is stretched; where after a fashion it is standing, the kind of standing by which one perseveres. So if you are seeking, you that make the cross your boast, to have the width of the cross, make sure you have the virtue to do good. If you want to have the length of the cross, make sure you have the long-suffering capacity to persevere.

But if you want to have the height of the cross, make sure you know the meaning of the words you hear, ‘Lift up your hearts,’ and where you hear them. Well, what does it mean, ‘Lift up your hearts’? Place your hope up there, place your love up there, ask for strength from up there, look for your reward up there. Because if you do good, and give cheerfully, you seem to have the width; if in the same good works you persevere to the end, you seem to have the length. But if you don’t do any of this for the sake of the reward up above, you won’t have the height; which means you won’t have the real width and real length either. In what consists, in fact, possessing the height, if one does not have God in his mind, and that means to love him gratuitously, He Who succours, He Who looks, He Who crowns, He Who grants the reward? It consists also in considering Him as the reward, in not wanting anything from Him except He Himself? If you love, love gratuitously; if it is true that you love, He will be the reward that you love. Or is it not true, in fact, that all things are dear to you and that you despise He who has made all things?

THE DEPTH OF THE CROSS

In order that all this may be possible for us, the Apostle has bent his knee, above all so that it will be given to us. The Gospel, in fact, makes us fear with the words: ‘To you has been given to understand the mystery of the kingdom, but to them it has not been given. Thus to he who has it will be given.’ But who is he who has and to whom will it be given but to he to whom it has been given? ‘But to he who has not, from him will be taken what he has.’ Who, on the other hand, is he who has not, but he to whom it has not been given? Why has it been given to one and not to the other?

In this consists the depth of the cross and I dare to say it. From the depths, I know not what, of the judgements of God, which we are unable to penetrate and contemplate, proceeds all that which is possible for us. From the unfathomable depths of the judgements of God, which we are not able to use for the object of our contemplation and are incapable of penetrating, there proceeds all that which we can contemplate. I see that which I am able to see: I do not see that which I might be able to see; this is solely because even that which I can see I do so only to the point of recognising that it comes from God. But the fact of attributing it to one and not the other is beyond my comprehension; it is an abyss, it is the depth of the Cross.”
– This item was published in “De Vita Contemplativa” (Monthly Magazine for Monasteries) Year VII – Number 9 – September 2013.

 

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