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Posts Tagged ‘lent 2019’

Reprint from past years, but still timely. 

A most interesting sermon from Blessed John Henry Newman on the First Sunday of Lent – which has always featured the Temptation in the Desert as its Gospel.

In this sermon, Newman speaks of the consequences of fasting – quite honestly, as it happens. For, he acknowledges, we are often assured of the good fruit of fasting. But as he notes, it was his fasting that exposed Jesus to the possibility of temptation. So it is with us. That is – it’s not all roses:

THE season of humiliation, which precedes Easter, lasts for forty days, in memory of our Lord’s long fast in the wilderness. Accordingly on this day, the first Sunday in Lent, we read the Gospel which gives an account of it; and in the Collect we pray Him, who for our sakes fasted forty days and forty nights, to bless our abstinence to the good of our souls and bodies.

We fast by way of penitence, and in order to subdue the flesh. Our Saviour had no need of fasting for either purpose. His fasting was unlike ours, as in its intensity, so in its object. And yet when we begin to fast, His pattern is set before us; and we continue the time of fasting till, in number of days, we have equalled His.


There is a reason for this;—in truth, we must do nothing except with Him in our eye. As He it is, through whom alone we have the power to do any good {2} thing, so unless we do it for Him it is not good. From Him our obedience comes, towards Him it must look. He says, “Without Me ye can do nothing.” [John xv. 5.] No work is good without grace and without love.

 

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Next I observe, that our Saviour’s fast was but introductory to His temptation. He went into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil, but before He was tempted He fasted. Nor, as is worth notice, was this a mere preparation for the conflict, but it was the cause of the conflict in good measure. Instead of its simply arming Him against temptation, it is plain, that in the first instance, His retirement and abstinence exposed Him to it. {6} Fasting was the primary occasion of it. “When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterwards an hungered;” and then the tempter came, bidding Him turn the stones into bread. Satan made use of His fast against Himself.

COPTIC ICON OF THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST - photo 1And this is singularly the case with Christians now, who endeavour to imitate Him; and it is well they should know it, for else they will be discouraged when they practise abstinences. It is commonly said, that fasting is intended to make us better Christians, to sober us, and to bring us more entirely at Christ’s feet in faith and humility. This is true, viewing matters on the whole. On the whole, and at last, this effect will be produced, but it is not at all certain that it will follow at once. On the contrary, such mortifications have at the time very various effects on different persons, and are to be observed, not from their visible benefits, but from faith in the Word of God. Some men, indeed, are subdued by fasting and brought at once nearer to God; but others find it, however slight, scarcely more than an occasion of temptation. For instance, it is sometimes even made an objection to fasting, as if it were a reason for not practising it, that it makes a man irritable and ill-tempered. I confess it often may do this. Again, what very often follows from it is, a feebleness which deprives him of his command over his bodily acts, feelings, and expressions. Thus it makes him seem, for instance, to be out of temper when he is not; I mean, because his tongue, his lips, nay his brain, are not in his power. He does not use the words he wishes to use, nor the accent and tone. He seems sharp {7} when he is not; and the consciousness of this, and the reaction of that consciousness upon his mind, is a temptation, and actually makes him irritable, particularly if people misunderstand him, and think him what he is not. Again, weakness of body may deprive him of self-command in other ways; perhaps, he cannot help smiling or laughing, when he ought to be serious, which is evidently a most distressing and humbling trial; or when wrong thoughts present themselves, his mind cannot throw them off, any more than if it were some dead thing, and not spirit; but they then make an impression on him which he is not able to resist. Or again, weakness of body often hinders him from fixing his mind on his prayers, instead of making him pray more fervently; or again, weakness of body is often attended with languor and listlessness, and strongly tempts a man to sloth.

Therefore let us be, my brethren, “not ignorant of their devices;” and as knowing them, let us watch, fast, and pray, let us keep close under the wings of the Almighty, that He may be our shield and buckler. Let us pray Him to make known to us His will,—to teach us our faults,—to take from us whatever may offend Him,—and to lead us in the way everlasting. And during this sacred season, let us look upon ourselves as on the Mount with Him—within the veil—hid with Him—not out of Him, or apart from Him, in whose presence alone is life, but with and in Him—learning of His Law with Moses, of His attributes with Elijah, of His counsels with Daniel—learning to repent, learning to confess and to amend—learning His love and His fear—unlearning ourselves, and growing up unto Him who is our Head.

Here is another Newman sermon on the First Sunday of Lent. In this one he tackles a different issue: the relative laxity of “modern” fasting practices.

It is quite predictable that at the beginning of every Lent, the claimed laxity of Catholic fasting and abstaining is decried – I’ve seen it all around Facebook this year, and I’ve done it, I’ve thought it, too.  We’re weak in comparison to past generations, Latin Rite Catholics are amateurs when compared to Eastern Catholics and the Orthodox.

Well, critics have been saying the same thing for about four hundred years, it seems. The Middle Ages was Peak Fast for Latin Rite Catholics and it’s been downhill ever since, they’ve been saying for centuries.

But is it really?

Newman makes the same observation – about the decline in physical demands – but has a different take:

I suppose it has struck many persons as very remarkable, that in the latter times the strictness and severity in religion of former ages has been so much relaxed. There has been a gradual abandonment of painful duties which were formerly inforced upon all. Time was when all persons, to speak generally, abstained from flesh through the whole of Lent. There have been dispensations on this point again and again, and this very year there is a fresh one. What is the meaning of this? What are we to gather from it? This is a question worth considering. Various answers may be given, but I shall confine myself to one of them.

I answer that fasting is only one branch of a large and momentous duty, the subdual of ourselves to Christ. We must surrender to Him all we have, all we are. We must keep nothing back. We must present to Him as captive prisoners with whom He may do what He will, our soul and body, our reason, our judgement, our affections, {64} our imagination, our tastes, our appetite. The great thing is to subdue ourselves; but as to the particular form in which the great precept of self-conquest and self-surrender is to be expressed, that depends on the person himself, and on the time or place. What is good for one age or person, is not good for another.

Even in our Blessed Lord’s case the Tempter began by addressing himself to His bodily wants. He had fasted forty days, and afterwards was hungered. So the devil tempted Him to eat. But when He did not consent, then he went on to more subtle temptations. He tempted Him to spiritual pride, and he tempted Him by ambition for power. Many a man would shrink from intemperance, {68} of being proud of his spiritual attainments; that is, he would confess such things were wrong, but he would not see that he was guilty of them.

Next I observe that a civilized age is more exposed to subtle sins than a rude age. Why? For this simple reason, because it is more fertile in excuses and evasions. It can defend error, and hence can blind the eyes of those who have not very careful consciences. It can make error plausible, it can make vice look like virtue. It dignifies sin by fine names; it calls avarice proper care of one’s family, or industry, it calls pride independence, it calls ambition greatness of mind; resentment it calls proper spirit and sense of honour, and so on.

Such is this age, and hence our self-denial must be very different from what was necessary for a rude age. Barbarians lately converted, or warlike multitudes, of fierce spirit and robust power—nothing can tame them better than fasting. But we are very different. Whether from the natural course of centuries or from our mode of living, from the largeness of our towns or other causes, so it is that our powers are weak and we cannot bear what our ancestors did. Then again what numbers there are who anyhow must have dispensation, whether because their labour is so hard, or because they never have enough, and cannot be called on to stint themselves in Lent. These are reasons for the rule of fasting not being so strict as once it was. And let me now say, that the rule which the Church now gives us, though indulgent, yet is strict too. It tries a man. One meal a day is trial to most people, even though on some days meat is allowed. It is sufficient, with our weak frames, to be a mortification of sensuality. It serves that end for which all fasting was instituted. On the other hand its being so light as it is, so much lighter than it was in former times, is a suggestion to us that there are other sins and weaknesses to mortify in us besides gluttony and drunkenness. It is a suggestion to us, while we strive to be pure and undefiled in our bodies, to be on our guard lest we are unclean and sinful in our intellects, in our affections, in our wills.

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And then more from With Mother Church: The Christ Life Series in Religion, a vintage 7th grade Catholic textbook:

Lent

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Lent

 

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More Lent from smart people here. 

I wasn’t planning to do another post on this theme, but then I ran across these two homilies of Basil the Great, which are not widely available in English. So I thought I’d toss them out there.

This translation is one made by one Kent Berghuis for his doctoral dissertation Christian Fasting: A Theological Approach. The entire dissertation is available online here. The sermons themselves are in an appendix here.  Berghuis uses some colloquial speech in the translation, as well as contractions – which you usually don’t find in writings of this sort. But as I read it, it did give me a better sense of the homily as a spoken piece, rather than simply ancient writing.

While getting filled up does a favor for the stomach, fasting returns  benefits to the soul. Be encouraged, because the doctor has given you a powerful remedy for sin. Strong, powerful medicines can get rid of annoying worms that are living in the bowels of children. Fasting is like that, as it cuts down to the depths, venturing into the soul to kill sin. It is truly fitting to call it by this honorable name of medicine.

2. “Anoint your head, and wash your face.”The word calls to you in a mystery. What is anointed is christened; what is washed is cleansed. Transfer this divine law to your inner life. Thoroughly wash the soul of sins. Anoint your head with a holy oil, so that you may be a partaker of Christ, and then go forth to the fast.

“Don’t darken your face like the hypocrites.”A face is darkened when the inner disposition is feigned, arranged to obscure it to the outside, like a curtain conceals what is false.

An actor in the theater puts on the face of another. Often one who is a slave puts on the face of a master, and a subject puts on royalty.  This also happens in life. Just as in the production cast of one’s own life many act on the stage. Some things are borne in the heart, but others are shown to men for the sake of appearances. Therefore don’t darken your face. Whatever kind it is, let it show.

Don’t disfigure yourself toward gloominess, or be chasing after the glory of appearing temperate. Not even almsgiving  is of any profit when it is trumpeted, and neither is fasting that is done for publicity of any value. Ostentatious things don’t bear fruit that lasts through the coming ages, but return back in the praises of men.

So run to greet the cheerful gift of the fast. Fasting is an ancient gift, but it is not worn out and antiquated. Rather, it is continually made new, and still is coming into bloom.

I’ll bet you’ve never thought of this as one of the benefits of fasting: it gives everyone a break! Actually – there’s some, er, food for thought. Because for …some of us, planning Lenten meals can be an occasion of stress, can’t it? So why not listen to Basil here? While his rationale might be different than yours, since you probably don’t have servants and are not personally slaughtering animals, perhaps there’s still a point of wisdom to take away – and that wisdom has to do with simplicity.

Who makes his own house decline by fasting?  Count the domestic benefits by considering the following things. No one has been deserted by those in the house on account of fasting.There’s no crying over the death of an animal, certainly no blood. Certainly nothing is missed by not bringing an unmerciful stomach out against the creatures.

The knives of the cooks have stopped; the table is full enough with things growing naturally. The Sabbath was given to the Jews, so that “you will rest,” it says, “your animal and your child.” Fasting should become a rest for the household servants who slave away continually, all year long.

Give rest to your cook, give freedom to the table keeper, stay the hand of the cupbearer. For once put an end to all those manufactured meals! Let the house be still for once from the myriad disturbances, and from the smoke, and from the odor of burning fat, and from the running around up and down, and from serving the stomach as if it were an unmerciful mistress!

Even those who exact tribute sometimes give a little liberty to their subjects. The stomach should also give a vacation to the mouth! It should make a truce, a peace offering with us for five days. That stomach never stops demanding, and what it takes in today is forgotten tomorrow. Whenever it is filled, it philosophizes about abstinence; whenever it is emptied, it forgets those opinions.

 8. Fasting doesn’t know the nature of usury. The one who fasts doesn’t smell of interest tables The interest rates of fasting don’t choke an orphan child’s inheritance, like snakes curled around a neck. Quite otherwise, fasting is an occasion for gladness.

As thirst makes the water sweet, and coming to the table hungry makes what’s on it seem pleasant, so also fasting heightens the enjoyment of foods. For once fasting has entered deep into your being, and the continuous delight of it has broken through, it will give you a desire that makes you feel like a traveler who wants to come home for fellowship again. Therefore, if you would like to find yourself prepared to enjoy the pleasures of the table, receive renewal from fasting.

 

 

Who has received anything of the fellowship of the spiritual gifts by abundant food and continual luxury? Moses, when receiving the law a second time, needed to fast a second time, too.If the animals hadn’t fasted together with the Ninevites, they wouldn’t have escaped the threatened destruction.

Whose bodies fell in the desert? Wasn’t it those who desired to eat flesh? While those same people were satisfied with manna and water from the rock, they were defeating Egyptians, they were traveling through the sea, and “sickness could not be found in their tribes.” But when they remembered the pots of meat, they also turned back in their lusts to Egypt, and they did not see the Promised Land. Don’t you fear this example? Don’t you shudder at gluttony, lest you be shut out from the good things you are hoping for?

 

He speaks a lot about drinking…in colorful terms. Also note that the Lenten fast at this time in this place was apparently five days – perhaps the week or so before Holy Thursday?

 

The athlete practices before the contest. The one who fasts is practicing self-control ahead of time. Don’t approach these five days like you are coming to rescue them as if they need you, or like somebody who is trying to get around the intent of the law, by just laying aside intoxication.  If you do that, you are suffering in vain. You are mistreating the body, but not relieving its need.

This safe where you keep your valuables isn’t secure; there are holes in the bottom of your wine-bottles. The wine at least leaks out, and runs down its own path; but sin remains inside.

A servant runs away from a master who beats him. So you keep staying with wine, even though it beats your head every day? The best measure of the use of wine is whether the body needs it. But if you happen to go outside of the bounds, tomorrow you will feel overloaded, gaping, dizzy, smelling rotten from the wine. To you, everything will be spinning around; everything will seem to be shaking. Drunkenness brings a sleep that’s a brother of death, but even being awake seems like being in a dream.

Basil’s Second Homily on Fasting is at the same site, but I’ll also link to this site – which gives a version that’s a little easier to read. 

Basil begins this homily by likening his task to that of a general rousing his troops for battle. He cites all the benefits of fasting, particular in contrast to greed and licentiousness. Over and over, in different ways he points out that those who indulge themselves are weighed down, slowed down and weakened. He also addresses that desire we have to feast before the fast, working mightily to discourage overindulgence, particularly drunkenness.

 If you were to come to fasting drunk, what benefit is it for you?  Indeed if drunkenness excludes you from the kingdom, how can fasting still be useful for you?  Don’t you realize that experts in horse training, when the day of the race is near, use hunger to prime their racehorses?  In contrast you intentionally stuff yourself through self-indulgence, to such an extent that in your gluttony you eclipse even irrational animals.  A heavy stomach is unconducive not only to running but also to sleeping.  Oppressed by an abundance of food, it refuses to keep still and is obliged to toss and turn endlessly.

And finally, he describes various groups and categories of people and points out how each of them can approach fasting in the most fruitful way. It’s a stem-winder of a sermon! No one’s off the hook!

Are you rich?  Do not mock fasting, deeming it unworthy to welcome as your table companion.  Do not expel it from your house as a dishonorable thing eclipsed by pleasure.  Never denounce yourself to the one who has legislated fasting and thereby merit condemnation to bitter penury caused either by bodily sickness or by some other gloomy condition.  Let not the pauper think of fasting as a joke, seeing that for a long time now he has had it as the companion of his home and table.  But as for women, just as breathing is proper and natural for them, so too is fasting.  And children, like flourishing plants, are irrigated with the water of fasting.  As for seniors, their long familiarity with fasting makes a difficult task easy.  For those in training know that difficult tasks done for a long time out of habit become quite painless. As for travelers, fasting is an expedient companion.  For just as self-indulgence necessarily weighs them down because they carry around what they have gorged themselves with, so too fasting renders them swift and unencumbered.  Furthermore, when an army is summoned abroad, the provisions the soldiers take are for necessities, not for self-indulgence.  Seeing that we are marching out for war against invisible enemies, pursuing victory over them so as to hasten to the homeland above, will it not be much more appropriate for us to be content with necessities as if we were among those living the regimented life of a military camp?

 

Take fasting, O you paupers, as the companion of your home and table; O you servants, as rest from the continual labors of your servitude; O you rich, as the remedy that heals the damage caused by your indulgence and in turn makes what you usually despise more delightful; O you infirm, as the mother of health; O you healthy, as the guardian of your health.  Ask the physicians, and they will tell you that the most perilous state of all is perfect health.  Accordingly experts prescribe going without food to eliminate excessive eating lest the burden of corpulence destroy the body’s strength.  For by prescribing not eating food to eliminate intemperance, they foster a kind of receptivity, re-education, and fresh start for the redevelopment of the nutritive faculty.  Hence one finds the benefit of fasting in every pursuit and in every bodily state, and it is equally suitable for everything: homes, fora, nights, days, cities, deserts.  Therefore, since in so many situations fasting graces us with something that is good in itself, let us undertake it cheerfully, as the Lord said, not looking gloomy like the hypocrites but exhibiting cheerfulness of soul without pretense.

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Ash Wednesday 2019

And you know – Lent is coming up. Two weeks from today!

Last Sunday: Septuagisima Sunday

Next up – Sexagesima Sunday. 

amy-welborn

Here’s a page on Lent. 

Here are some Lent resources from me. 

Also – if you’re looking for a Lenten read, either as an individual or for a group – consider The Words We Pray. 

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