Thursday, March 29, 2018

On Lent and Having a 'Good Lent'

Blessed Columba Marmion  Source: Wikipedia
"Man's days are as grass: as the flower of the field so shall he flourish.  For the spirit shall pass in him, and he shall not be: and he shall know his place no more. "  (Douay-Rheims) Psalm 102:15-16

Our days are so short.  They pass by so quickly.  Every moment counts.  Aim for heaven!

"If I do not become a saint then I am doing nothing" (St. Dominic Savio)

Quotes on or useful for Lent  

  • 'Lent is the period of penance preceding Easter' My Catholic Faith, Bishop Morrow p.241

  • "Why has the Church instituted this fast forty days before Easter?
To imitate Christ who fasted forty days, 

to participate in His merits and sufferings; 

to subject our flesh to voluntary mortification to the spirit, and to mortify our evil desires as did St. Paul (Col. 1:24); 

to enable us to lead a pure life, and thus prepare for the holy festival of Easter, and the reception of the divine Lamb, Jesus: 

and finally, to render God satisfaction for our sins, and do penance, as Pope Gregory says, 

for the sins of one whole year by one short fast, lasting only the tenth part of a year"

The Church's Year, Rev. Fr. Leonard Goffine p. 119  
(Note:  This last sentence does not mean that we do not make satisfaction at other times of the year but that we have a special opportunity during lent, being the season it is, to do so.)  

  • "Lent is the autumn of the spiritual life during which we gather fruit to keep us going for the rest of the year" St. Francis de Sales

  • Lent helps "to enlighten us with regard to our own temptations, and teach us how to conquer them."  Dom Prosper Gueranger, The Liturgical Year
  • "If men only knew what eternity is they would do everything in their power to change their lives"  Our Lady of Fatima to Bl. Jacinta

  • Lent is... 'the traditional time for spiritual reform.  That is why the liturgy presents us today with a program which we must put into effect in order to bring about within ourselves a new, serious conversion, so that we may rise again with Christ at Easter.  The Collect of today's Mass, while reminding us that we are sinners, invites us to sentiments of profound humility, "to the end that we, who are justly afflicted because of our sins, may through Thy mercy, be freed from them."  The first step toward conversion always consists in humbly recognising that we need to be converted.  The lukewarm must become fervent, the fervent must reach perfection, the perfect must attain heroic virtue.  Who can say that he does not need to advance in virtue and in sanctity?  Each new step effects a new conversion to God, conversio ad Deum.  In the Epistle (I Cor 9,24-27 - 10, 1-5) St. Paul urges us to undertake this ceaseless spiritual labor.  To reach sanctity and heavenly glory we must never tire of running and striving, as those who run in the stadium struggle and exert themselves "to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one.  I, therefore, so run... not as one beating the air," says the Apostle, "but I chastise my body and bring it into subjection!"  This is the first point in the program: a generous struggle to overcome ourselves, to conquer evil and achieve goodness: denial of self by humility; denial of the body by physical mortification.  Only those who struggle and exert themselves will win the prize.  There fore let us also run in such a way as to obtain the prize.'  Divine Intimacy (77 Septuagesima Sunday), Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.

A good daily lenten prayer is a must.  Prayer and fasting go together.  If you begin your day with a lenten prayer then you offer your whole day for those intentions.  Your morning lenten prayer will also solidify in your mind what lent is, particularly if you pray it slowly and attentively.  Here is a good one:

'O Lord Jesus,
I offer up to Thee,
my fasting and self-denial,
to be united to Thy fasting and sufferings,
for Thy glory,
in gratitude for so many benefits received from Thee,
in satisfaction for my sins and those of others,
and to obtain Thy holy grace that I may
overcome my sins and acquire the virtues which I need.
Look upon me, O Jesus, in mercy.  Amen.'

Some Thoughts on Lent
Each lent the mysteries of Christ's Passion, death and resurrection should sink a little deeper into the fabric of our being.  By contrasting and comparing our own lives with the pattern shown to us by Christ we are challenged to see what we need to fix, to improve our spiritual fitness, and to take up our own cross and follow Our Lord.  

Lent is our yearly spiritual health check-up and a workout to keep us on track or get us on track to Heaven.  And as an annual physical check-up would determine what we do for the rest of the year, so does the spiritual check-up which is lent.  We take what we learn from lent and apply it throughout the year.

Prayer, penance, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving during lent help us in seeking to amend our life and learn to follow Christ better.

Purple tablecloths, lenten decorations or paper crafts etc. can be helpful aids for participation during lent, but lent does not lie in these but in a heart that seeks Christ.  That being so pick up the tools Christ gives you each lent.  We all get this same basic set (prayer, penance, fasting and abstinence, almsgiving) but the details are tailored to our individual needs.

Take full advantage of lent as an excellent training ground for you to become a saint.  And a saint is not someone who never made a mistake, or had to struggle, but someone who never gave up no matter how many were their mistakes and struggles.  Always calling upon God for their strength, without which they would fail.

You might say 'but I am not a saint'.  Sometimes when we look at the lives of the saint's it feels impossible or even scary to become one.  But when you look at the saints you are looking at a target not a start point: to imitate Christ as they did.

There are saint's who by grace from their infancy were good and holy, they never did a thing wrong.  Don't let these saint's discourage you.  Don't be afraid either that if if you give God an inch that you'll end up a stigmatist like St. Padre Pio.  Whatever God has in store for you, have confidence that it is the best, and that you will be given the grace you need for each moment, if you ask God for it in prayer.

It doesn't matter where you start from or when, from unbelief, as the worst of sinners, after a life time of not having had God in your life, just start.  You can be a saint.  It consists of this, beginning, and then never giving up and reaching out to God without fail in prayer.  If you keep talking to God and asking for His help you will get the grace you need.  Maybe not what you want, but what you need.

Take the Blessed Mother for your own dear mother.  Nobody, not even the person who had the nicest mother ever, has had a mother as good as the Blessed Mother.  Maybe it'll be hard at first, and feel funny, but keep at it.  Say a little prayer to her: 'Blessed Mother watch over me'.  It may take a lot of time, for you to trust in her love for you and to accept it, but she loves you and as her child she will take you to her Son, she will see you home to Heaven.

One of the most painful things of lent is looking at ourselves and seeing how we fall short.  There can be the temptation to decide that God doesn't really want us to do what can feel like 'negative things' like fasting but instead concentrate on doing 'positive things' instead like being kind to others.  Fasting isn't a negative thing but a hard thing and it actually helps us achieve 'doing good things' by helping us to be disciplined and conquer our vices.  Don't give up, the school of lent requires patience.  It may take many lents.  It is this persistent enduring patience that tells God you love Him (not good feelings) and brings the grace of your ongoing conversion.

“Do not grieve over the temptations you suffer. When the Lord intends to bestow a particular virtue on us, He often permits us first to be tempted by the opposite vice. Therefore, look upon every temptation as an invitation to grow in a particular virtue and a promise by God, that you will be successful, if only you stand fast.” St Philip Neri

Planning Lent

Write down your lenten disciplines at the beginning of lent.  We have a tendency to move 'the goal posts'  if we don't.  It goes something like this:  You start out saying you won't eat any biscuits during lent.  Then as lent begins you say, well, just no biscuits on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.  Then as lent gets in a bit you say to yourself that what you really meant was, no chocolate biscuits ;)  And so it goes.  If you write it down you can keep looking at what you wrote and remember.  Keep it simple.  Try to do a little and well.  And during your evening prayers think over your failings of the day and then ask God for forgiveness of them and for help to do better.

(A good video on giving up vice here Note: Father is not saying not to give up things like coffee for lent but to make sure the focus isn't just no coffee but conquering vice.  Fasting and abstinence when united with prayer bring the grace of discipline which helps us follow God's will not our own.  Fasting and abstinence without prayer and the intention of acquiring virtue is empty.  Many people do things such as give up coffee for lent with good intentions but don't know how to use this to change their lives, or even that it has this purpose.  I found Fathers sermon very helpful in giving me idea's on how to work toward spiritual goals and by God's grace work towards defeating vice.)

When you haven't had a good lent

And if you find yourself on Holy Saturday, sighing that you have not had a 'good' lent... admit to yourself your failings and ask God for the grace to do better.

Humility opens the way to Christ.

"...your weaknesses, your failings, the Good God permits them in order to keep you in humility and in the sense of your nothingness. God can always draw good from our miseries, and when you have been unfaithful and have failed in confidence and in abandon to His holy will, if you humble yourself deeply, you will lose nothing, but on the contrary, you will advance in virtue and in the love of God.
If everything happened to you just as you could wish, if you were always in robust health, if all your exercises of devotion were performed to your satisfaction, if you had no doubts and uncertainties for the future, etc., with your character you would quickly become full of self-sufficiency and secret pride; and instead of exciting the bounty of the Father of Mercies and of drawing down His compassion on His poor weak creature, you would be an abomination in God’s eyes. “Every proud man is an abomination to the Lord. You must therefore set to work. Our Lord loves you, He sees into the depths of your soul, even into recesses hidden from yourself, and He knows what you need; leave Him to act, and don’t try to make Our Lord follow your way of seeing things, but follow His in all simplicity." (Blessed Columba Marmion, Union With God, Letters of Spiritual Direction)

If you feel you have not had a good lent then even more you should rejoice at Easter, for Christ the Lord, Your Redeemer, has risen from the dead.

And on Easter morn sing loudly 'Alleluia!'

Surrexit Dominus vere, Alleluia!
The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!!

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