Thursday 19 February 2015

Letter for Lent

Dear Brethren,  This Sunday is the first in the Lenten Season. As a Christian Order, we are called to renew our commitments to spiritual practices like Fasting, Prayer, and Alms giving. The season is intended as a time for personal conversion leading up to Easter. Our belief is that our consistent participation in these practices — like exercise we do for our physical health, or the rigours of a military training — are a form of purification that improves our spiritual well-being by stripping away all that is unnecessary and by becoming more mindful of our ultimate dependence on God in our lives. Lent is an annual opportunity to grow in our faith, which means it’s about much more than giving up unhealthy foods or treats, as you may have done when you were a child. It is about abstaining from whatever is unhealthy in our lives — gossip, laziness, lack of social conscience, the influence of secular ideas — and, most importantly, taking concrete steps to do something more. Challenge yourself this year, and go beyond the clichés of “giving up” something. Now is a great time to take stock of your spiritual life, and to grow in it. 

May I suggest that your alms giving, if it is not already focused elsewhere, 
could be directed to the work of the Order. 

This could be done simply by sending your Lenten offering to the Treasurer via cheque or the usual electronic payment suitably annotated.

Not sure where to start? Check out these 20 ideas:

1) Instead of chocolate, alcohol, or tobacco, what if people thought of fasting, prayer, and alms giving in a broader context? What if those disciplines involved practices like reducing your dependence on electronic devices for 24 hours (fast); contemplating the 1.6 billion people in the world who have no access to electricity for a few moments (pray); and spending the extra time you’ve saved on personal interaction with someone important to you (give)? 

2) Make a commitment to reading the Sunday readings before you go to Mass. In the same way that reading up on football players, opposing teams, and coaching strategies will help you experience a game more fully, familiarising yourself with the readings ahead of time can allow you to experience them in a deeper way on Sunday. 

3) Don’t have time to read all the readings? Then just read the Gospel.

4) Make a commitment to trying something new spiritually. Never tried Stations of the Cross? Never been to the Traditional Form of the Mass?  Give it a try.

5) Think about what you usually spend your money on. Do you buy a few too many clothes? Spend a few too many £££’s on iTunes? Eating out? Pick one type of expenditure that you’ll “fast” from during Lent, and give the money you would usually spend to a great Catholic charity.  Challenge yourself this year, and go beyond the clichés of “giving up” something. Now is a great time to take stock of your spiritual life, and to grow in it.

6)When you first sit down in front of your computer at work, or at home, try a prayer when you start. 

7) Go to a weekday Mass one day during the week. Daily Masses are often more quieter & less busy than Sunday Mass.

8) If you don’t have a Crucifix, statue or religious picture, in your house, buy one and put it in your home.

9) Read the entire Gospel of Mark in one sitting. As the shortest Gospel, it is the most concise story of Jesus’ life, and the cross, a central Lenten symbol, plays an even more prominent role than in the other Gospels.

10) Attend the Stations of the Cross. Seek out a devotional Service near you, such as Stations of the Cross. Plan now to attend all the Holy Week Services.

11) Remember to fast and abstain from meat on Fridays. 3pm - the time of Our Lord’s death - is a good time to pray.

12) Turn off your iPod or your car radio on your commute. The silence may be jarring at first, but you may find that you are able to concentrate better and will be more observant of your surroundings. Pray for someone you see.

13) Buy a book that will help you to pray each day, or that will teach you more about the Faith or the lives of the Saints.

14) During Lent, we’re called to fast not only from food but from other things as well.

15) Make a commitment to “fast” from cruel comments about others. So, no gossiping or reading celebrity tabloids.

16) Pray for somebody. As you’re walking the streets, driving, sitting in your cubicle at work, or going to a film, pick out a person who appears to be in need, and pray for that person. Be mindful of the words of Philo of Alexandria, who said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” Pray the Rosary. Give time to reflective meditation.

17) As you are waiting to fall asleep at night, pray the Jesus Prayer silently as a mantra: “Lord Jesus, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” 

18) Read the Works of Mercy as Jesus describes them in Matthew 25. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink…in prison and you visited me.” There are plenty of opportunities available in your own community to put this teaching into practice. Choose an act of service you can perform throughout Lent.

19) Make a list of all the excesses in your life. Think about which ones you could do without. Use the time gained to do something at Church.

20) Celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Go to Confession.

Fr Simon Henry
Chaplain General - Great Britain