Last week, on Ash Wednesday, we began Lent (from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Lencten’, i.e. ‘Spring’), a six week period of preparation for Easter, a time probably generally associated with 'giving things up'. Self-denial can certainly focus our minds more sharply on our Saviour's Sacrifice and help us become more detached from material things. Hopefully it will not be, simply, a yearly 'detox', foregoing such pleasures as alcohol or rich foods before eagerly taking them up again at Easter. Lenten self-denial obviously really needs to become a year-round discipline to be lastingly beneficial, whether spiritually and/or physically.
Probably more of a challenge is the 'positive side of the coin', i.e. doing extra. This must certainly include making great efforts with our spiritual lives and may well involve money saved through material self-denial. Hopefully, money saved from giving up certain foods and drinks will go to Charity. Also there are practical acts of Charity one can take on, such as giving time to visiting the sick and housebound.
Bearing in mind that we need God's Grace to do anything truly good will, hopefully, prompt us to try to get to Mass (in addition to obligatory Sunday Mass) at least once during the week, maybe at St. Bart’s at 7.30am on our way to work or school. At Mass, we have the privilege of accompanying Christ in His once-for-all Sacrifice of His Life to His Father on Calvary. We receive Him in Holy Communion, an act which strengthens souls in the State of Grace so that they may persevere in faithfulness to God. If Mass in our Parish Church is not possible, do check Mass times at churches nearer to school or workplace; Some Catholic schools may already offer students the possibility of daily Mass. In addition to morning Masses, some churches may well offer lunchtime or evening Mass.
As many churches in towns and cities are open all day, one has, if it is really impossible to get to Mass, at least the chance to pop in and make the Way of the Cross. Remember that, at St. Bart's, we have the opportunity to make this devotion together on Sundays (4pm) and Fridays (7.30pm) in Lent. The fourteen Stations (or Way) of the Cross, put before our mind's eye several events in Christ's Passion, from His condemnation by Pilate to His burial. This devotion, which can, of course, be practised every day of the year, is available in a variety of formats. Very young children will benefit from being taken and shown the beautifully carved and painted images in church, with very simple explanations from Parents or older Siblings or, maybe, they can be asked to tell the story in their own words. Some of us may well have a favourite version of the Stations we like to use. Even the sick and housebound can make the Stations; nobody need feel excluded! There are Apps for our Smartphones, not to mention a wealth of on-line versions, many of which have film footage with sound or subtitles.
A beautiful, simple and soul-searching version is that by Saint Alphonsus Liguori, published by CTS. Those who can use smartphones, mp3 players and computers may listen to or download this from here.
Another, more contemporary meditation, by Fr. Hugh Thwaites, S.J. is available here. Many versions are available; it all depends on what we hope to gain, spiritually, from this great devotion. EWTN Catholic TV is certainly well worth looking at. How we meditate on the Passion is, of course, up to us. If we really don't have time to come and make the Stations in church (on our own, if we prefer) or to spend a short while making them at home, why not try, at least daily, during Lent, to say the beautiful Act of Contrition which is often included as part of the Way of the Cross: "I love Thee, Jesus, my love above all things! I repent with my whole heart of having offended Thee! Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always and then do with me what thou wilt!”. This wording can easily be explained to and adapted for our younger parishioners.
Whatever we elect to do let us do it with love, as part of our life-long journey, “...knowing, loving and serving God...” here on earth, so as to bring us to be “...happy forever with Him in Heaven.” (which many of us will have learned through the ‘Penny’ Catechism (Q&A.2), still published (though, unfortunately, no longer 1 penny!) and available from the CTS, even in E-Book format these days! It is an excellent summary of our Faith and will ‘stretch’ both adults and children alike! For those still wishing to ‘grow in Faith’ this Constant Teaching of the Church is more fully explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Chs. 1-3.
From St. Bart's
Thoughts on the traditional teachings, devotions, seasons and matters of the Catholic Church