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The qualification is important. For the next few weeks we are principally concerned with following Jesus into the desert, allowing the searing light of truth into the hidden parts of our being, making us face up to the reality of who and what we are. We know it will be uncomfortable, but we were never promised a life of comfort when we became his disciples.

St Benedict tells his readers that the life of a monk should always have a Lenten quality, and there are many places in the Rule where he refers to fighting for the true King, Christ our Lord, the fraterna acies or battleline of the community and the spiritual combat of the desert in which solitaries engage. But he never presents this spiritual warfare as something dour or grim. On the contrary, it is immensely joyful — because it brings us closer to Christ. In this, I think he is echoing the joy Jesus found in the desert, when he spent those precious forty days exploring the depth of his relationship with the Father.

Yes, he was tested; yes, the temptation was real and urgent; but he was driven out into the desert by the Spirit — the Greek verb used is very strong, almost catapulted — and he was accompanied by angels, messengers of God. In other words, he was alone with the Alone. For us, as disciples, our moments of being alone with the Alone can be very few and far between. In Lent we try to make more time for prayer, reduce the number of distractions fasting and seek to serve God in others almsgiving.

We know that we can sometimes be very self-regarding in all three, whereas what we intend is to forget ourselves. That really is the secret both of spiritual warfare such as I have described, and the joy that accompanies it. We need to stand aside, as it were, and let Christ be all in all — and that is so hard for us difficult, argumentative beings, who like to be in control all the time and find it virtually impossible to let go!

The illustration at the top of this blog post may help change our perspective a little. It shows Christ carrying the Cross: the logical conclusion, if you like, of his forty days in the desert. The battle with Satan that began there reaches its climax on Good Friday, when Christ wins the victory for all time. Christ has shed his blood for us, once and for all; so no more need be shed. He has borne every insult and angry word that has ever been uttered; so no more need be said. He has experienced all the contradictions of being human and transformed them so that now we can live the life of grace.

Yes, Christ has triumphed and we live now with a vast opportunity before us.

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This Sunday is a good day for asking ourselves what we truly desire: God or something less, joy or endless sorrow? The tweeter is an Anglican bishop whom I admire, and the question he poses plunges us straight into what Lent is all about: conversion of heart, transformation in Christ.

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Like many others, I am increasingly hesitant about discussing IS or ISIS and its latest atrocities because publicity is what it craves. How do we pray for those whose every act seems to be evil? We cannot identify with their mindset, still less their actions. But, if you think about it, very few of us are so in tune with others that we can identify with them completely.

The fact that even our nearest and dearest sometimes seem to be worlds apart from us should give us pause. Even Jesus was to discover that his closest disciples were unable to keep watch with him in Gethsemane as he underwent his agony. The gift of conversion of heart sounds splendid — until we actually receive it in some small measure. In asking God to turn the hearts of IS to better things, we are asking for a hard and difficult grace that, if received, will shake them to the very core.

God burns evil from our hearts and, say what you like about healing pain, it is always a searing experience. Shrove Tuesday is a day when Christians take stock of their lives in preparation for Lent.

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In an earlier post I described it thus:. Shrove Tuesday: a day for being shriven sacramental confession of our sins , for carnival eating meat and pancakes clearing out the last of the butter, eggs and milk in the larder before the Lenten fast begins — and for making merry, in the old-fashioned sense of rejoicing and having fun. It may be my warped sense of humour, but there has always seemed to me a marvellous inversion of the usual order of things on Shrove Tuesday.

The Church traditionally kept the Vigils of great feasts with a fast; the Vigil of the great fast of Lent is kept with feasting. In both cases the purpose is the same: to impress upon us the solemnity of the occasion, its spiritual importance marked out by what we eat and drink and do. Today we eat in honour of the Lord; tomorrow, and for forty days, we shall fast in honour of the Lord.

Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving by Kevin Perrotta

Prayer, fasting, almsgiving: these are the foundation of our Lent, but probably the most obvious to ourselves and others will be the fasting. It is worth thinking what our fast should be. Lent is often seen in negative terms, giving up this and that, making small sacrifices that, by the end of six weeks, seem enormous. We tend to overlook the fact that the traditional disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving unlock great spiritual power. They enable us to stand aside, so to say, and allow Christ to be all in all.

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Ultimately, it is only God who can solve the problem of evil in the world; but, as we are destined to learn again this Lent, he does so in a way none of us could have foreseen. Yesterday, not for the first time, our email prayerline contained many requests for financial blessings. Some mentioned distressing situations: nowhere to live, not enough to eat, inadequate or non-existent healthcare, the inability to pay college fees, and so on.

How did such a skewed view of things ever arise? I wonder whether it is a reaction to centuries of various forms of Christian quietism. Upholding the status quo , not challenging the establishment, accepting that.

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The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, God made them high and lowly, And ordered their estate. On the whole, Catholicism has tended to exalt the value of being poor over the value of being rich, recognizing that material plenty can clutter our spiritual vision; but no one can argue that the Church has ever herself felt the need to be poor as an institution.

Lent is a good time to think through our attitudes to poverty and riches, especially as almsgiving is an essential feature of our Lenten discipline. That is what we are asked to demonstrate with particular generosity throughout these days of Lent. But there is still the underlying attitude to consider. Do we give from a position of superiority, or do we share from the same level?

The answers may prove uncomfortable, but Lent is a time for being made uncomfortable. At the risk of repeating myself, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of almsgiving in our Lenten discipline. On Ash Wednesday our focus tends to be on prayer and fasting, which is as it should be. Our awareness of personal sin and the need of individual conversion is uppermost. We mark the beginning of the penitential season with a rigorous fast and an exterior sign of our inner resolve.

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What should be the one thing everyone notices? Not our small acts of self-denial or the extra time spent in prayer, surely? No, our compassion, our almsgiving, should be what everyone notices about the Christian practice of Lent. It has been well said that if you want to know God, show love to your neighbour. When I was a young nun I thought the way to know God was to pray ardently and read deeply, but living in community showed me that, important though those are, the only way to know love fully is to show love oneself.

The example of the old nuns taught me what my theology text books did not and could not. The small sacrifices we make during Lent only have meaning if they increase love. You will be repaid a hundredfold. So, over and above any material gift, give your time to those who need it. That visit to someone you have been putting off, that letter you have been meaning to write, even the smile with which you greet the office bore, they are all forms of almsgiving which will enrich your life as well as that of others.

They will allow God a way in. You can add to them, if you wish, by using the search box in the sidebar. First, I am a great believer in preparing for Lent , thinking about what it means and what would be most helpful for the individual as well as the community:. The traditional disciplines of Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Most of this blog is about prayer in one way or another, but these posts may be worth re-reading:. On the subject of fasting , these may be useful, especially as some points are repeated:.

I suspect that there is more than enough here from one perspective. The spiritual disciplines are ways of seeking God, and Jesus affirms that those who seek God are never disappointed. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him! In this Bible study, the readings from Scripture will help us reflect on the root issue that Jesus raises—on the question of intention, of purpose, of the orientation of our hearts.

A Different Order Jesus speaks of the spiritual disciplines in a different order from the one we generally use: not prayer, fasting, and almsgiving but almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. This is not a random variation.

He puts the three disciplines in a meaningful order. Most important, he puts prayer at the center. This carries a simple message: Prayer is central! Prayer lies at the heart of the spiritual disciplines—indeed, at the heart of the Christian life. The spiritual disciplines are supposed to draw us closer to God, and prayer is the most direct way of doing that.