“I have sewn sackcloth over my skin,(Job 16:15 NKJV)
And laid my head in the dust.”
Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the season of Lent. God calls us to observe a holy Lent through assessment, penitence, discipline and renewal, using the classical church practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Historically, the Church has set aside Lent as a time of intense instruction and formation in the faith, and a season of detachment, spiritual purification, and enlightenment for all Christians. Notice that prayer, fasting, almsgiving, even formation, are external practices, perhaps preferably communal external practices. As we do, so shall we be. External practices develop internal dispositions, detached from unhealthy, unworthy, or even unnecessary attachments.
Prayer When asked how to improve one’s prayer time, Thomas Merton is said to have responded, “Take the time.” Simply take the time to pray regularly, and you will become more prayerful.
Fasting Bodily pleasures, while not wrong in and of themselves, can become domineering. We fast from bodily pleasures so that the deeper spiritual hungers will arise. Live a fasted life while remembering and helping others less fortunate than ourselves.
Almsgiving In giving alms we acknowledge that the things we own are ultimately gifts from God. The right of private property carries a responsibility for the common good. We participate in that reality by generously and joyfully giving alms for the sake of others.
Other worthy practices: Love your neighbor as yourself, visit the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, help the oppressed, teach the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, evangelize the unbeliever, pray for the sick, comfort the sorrowful and widows, give shelter to the homeless and refugees. When you do these things for the very least of society, you do them for God. Mother Teresa said that is the summary of the Gospel: “You did it to me.” (Matt. 25:31-46)
May our observance of a holy Lent help us all to grow in the fullness of the life of God.
The Lord be with you,
James R. Hart, President
Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian
I shared this with you for the past several years. St. Ephrem the Syrian is a 4th-century saint and doctor of the Church who is known especially for his hymn writing. Here is one of St. Ephrem’s prayers, said to be the Lenten prayer “par excellence” and prayed in the Eastern Church every weekday of Lent.
O Lord and Master of my life,
keep from me the spirit of indifference
lust of power, and idle chatter.
Instead, grant to me, Your servant,
the spirit of wholeness of being,
humble-mindedness, patience, and love.
O Lord and King,— St. Ephrem the Syrian
grant me the grace to be aware of my sins
and not to judge my brother and sister,
for You are blessed,
now and ever and forever. Amen.
I want to commend this prayer of St. Ephrem to you for your Lenten devotion. Pray it daily, perhaps even twice each day. Let the words sink into your soul as you allow God to work in you, putting off bodily addictions and taking on divine virtues. Strive for great detachment from worldly attachments with great love toward God and others. St. John of the Cross wrote, “In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on earthly possessions and human success, but rather on how much we have loved.”