These are mysterious events that are difficult to grasp. They speak of the incomprehensible suffering of Jesus Christ–and call upon us to cleanse the hidden places within our souls. Beyond our mourning at these events is the essential message of Jesus Christ–love–the love of a Father so concerned for our safe return to the heavenly kingdom that He sacrificed His son to bring us the ultimate message of love.
Let us reach out and take the hand of Jesus Christ each morning of the Easter Season so we may feel the loving intent of His journey–and the pure exchange of that love flowing between us.
This Lenten Series is an invitation to a spiritual journey through the events at the heart of Christianity: The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Our journey will be divided into two 20-day periods as described by the Sisters of Carmel, a Catholic Carmelite Order. “The first 20 days focus on the purification of our souls through acts of fasting, repenting for our sins (errors) and giving alms–while the second 20 days are for looking outside of ourselves toward Jesus Christ as He endures His passion and death.” Then, on Easter, we will share the joy and wonder of His resurrection.
“The Gospels show us the true spirit of penance,” note the Sisters. “They teach us how to fast and pray and give alms, all of these actions enlivened by the spirit of mortification.*” (*1.To cause or experience shame, humiliation or wounded pride 2.To discipline one’s body and appetites by self-denial or self-inflicted privation. The New Webster Dictionary)
Fasting During Lent
Since the end of the first century, fasting and penance have been observed before Easter. These fasting rules were very strict; one meal a day was allowed in the evening and meat, fish, eggs and butter were forbidden. Strict fasting laws were dispensed with during the Second Vatican Council in the Catholic Church and are left up to the discretion of the individual in Protestant Churches. They have also become less rigid in the Eastern Churches.
What Are The Benefits Of Fasting?
The world’s major religions see fasting as a means of reaching elevated states of consciousness as well as strengthening member’s fortitude to live in union with their religion. For those unaffiliated with a church or spiritual group, fasting is often chosen to achieve these same goals.
The Sisters of Carmel remind us that fasting and praying will put us in the proper spirit required of a penitent, if practiced with the proper attitude. The Sisters point to the Gospel of Luke 18:9-14, which I had not seen from this point of view. Let’s look at this Gospel from the Sister’s viewpoint.
The Pharisee And The Tax Collector
“He spoke the following parable to some people who prided themselves on being upright and despised everyone else. Two men went to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly this tax collector here. I fast twice a week. I pay tithes on all I get.
“The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven, but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This man I tell you went home again justified, the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up.”
When applied to fasting: to fast with the intention of identifying personal errors; to use the discomfort of fasting as a reminder of the pain endured by Jesus Christ; to fast without seeking attention ; and to have no expectation other than what God chooses is to fast with the silent humility of the tax collector.
The Significance Of Ashes On The First Day of Lent
The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday. There is no reference to this day in the Bible. What we learn from Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions is that “In Rome penitents began their period of public penance on this day. They were sprinkled with ashes, dressed in sackcloth and obliged to remain apart until they reconciled with the Christian community on the Thursday before Easter. When these practices fell into disuse between the eighth and tenth centuries, they were symbolized by placing ashes on the heads of the entire congregation on the first day of Lent. In Catholic Churches this practice continues. The ashes are the remains of burned palms from the prior year’s Palm Sunday. Worship services are also held on Ash Wednesday in the Anglican Communion in Lutheran Churches and in some Protestant Churches.
Psalm 130 of the Old Testament, a reading for Ash Wednesday, will puts us in a spiritual attitude for this season. “From the depths I call to you, Yahweh, Lord, hear my cry. Listen attentively to the sound of my pleading! If you kept a record of our sins, Lord, who could stand their ground?…My whole being hopes in the Lord, more than watchmen for daybreak. More than watchmen for daybreak, let Israel hope in Yahweh for with Yahweh is faithful love, with him generous ransom. And he will ransom Israel from all sins.”
This psalm is indicative of the attitude of humble reverence to God that has been practiced by Christians during Lent since the beginning of the faith.
Establishing A Spiritual Practice For Lent
Many find it easier to maintain their spiritual practice if they reserve a time when they are not likely to be interrupted. Praying, imaging or contemplating in a quiet, comfortable space with a spiritual focal point as simple as a candle can center us for the day or help us transition from our daily routines to bedtime.
Comment, please. If you have any questions, contact me by going to the Comment section at the end of this blog or by e-mailing me at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
P.S. (Updated for 2012) Important Dates in 2012: Lent begins in Western Churches on Wednesday, February 22, 2012 and Easter is celebrated on April 8th. In the Eastern churches Lent began 8 weeks before Easter.