On Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten season, many of us had the sign of the cross marked onto our foreheads with ash, as these words were addressed to us: “Repent and believe the gospel.” This ash cross is a reminder to us for our need to consider prayerfully and reflectively the state of our own lives and it is a witness to others that God loved the world so much that the Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us, revealing to us who God really is and inviting us to share in the divine life.
What does it mean to repent? Strictly speaking, it means ‘to be sorry’ but that is only part of the story. When the Scriptures were translated from Greek to Latin the word ‘poenitare’ was used for the Greek word ‘metanoia’ which is a much more nuanced word that actually calls for a ‘change of heart. And so what we are being called to do during Lent is to “change our hearts.” This is what we pray for when we sing the familiar Lenten hymn, “Grant to us, O Lord, a heart renewed; recreate in us your own spirit, Lord.” How can our heart be renewed? What do we need to do to allow God’s own spirit to be recreated in us? One of the best ways is to open our hearts and minds to the word of God that comes to us in the Scriptures. The daily readings that the Church provides for each of the days of Lent is a good place to start. As you read these slowly, note the words or phrases that stand out for you as you read, and then speak with God about what this means for your everyday life. Where can we find these readings? If you have a Daily Missal, you can find them there. If you do not, then there are sites on the internet that will direct you to the scripture texts and you can read them either from the internet or from your own Bible.
Prepared for the Office for Worship website byDr Jenny O’Brien 25.3.20
This is a Lent like no other
Our world is in a state of uncertainty and anxiety. Rarely in the history of the Church have Christians experienced such a lack of access to Mass and the sacraments. In away it is like a time of persecution, but one arising from a most unusual cause: the coronoavirus. We have always been encouraged to pray, fast and give alms during Lent, but this year, our fasting will be from the Eucharist and the sacraments, from many of the normal interactions with family, friends and work colleagues as well as from nearly all sport and forms of entertainment like the theatre and cinema. There is no need to wonder this year, “What can I give up for Lent?” Instead, let our focus be on prayer and almsgiving. First of all, let us thank God for all that we have. We are so fortunate to live in a country that has an excellent health system and that provides universal health care. We are also blessed by an abundance of food and other resources. We also have an amazing communications infrastructure that includes television, internet, mobile phones and other devices. While we may be physically isolated from others, there are many opportunities to “see” them in the digital world.
Secondly, let us make this Lent a time of personal, spiritual growth. The best way to do this is to read and ponder the word of God – either directly from the Bible or from the Scripture Readings of the Day. If we do not already practice what is calledLectiodivina (that is to say, “divine reading”) now is a good time to learn how this is done. Find a quiet place, settle yourself down by breathing deeply and asking the Holy Spirit to be with you, then slowly read over the scripture passage you have chosen. Let the words sink in. Is there a word or a phrase that stands out for you? Read the passage again. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you try to see how the words of scripture “make sense” in your own daily life. Does what you have read raise questions for you? Is there something that you think God might be asking of you? Is there a quality of God evident that you had not thought about very much before? Talk with God in your heart. Allow enough time of silence for you to hear the “whisperings” of God to you. Read the passage again, for a third time. What action might you carry out in the next couple of days in the light of what you have read and prayed about? Resolve to carry it out. Thank God for this time of quiet prayer. Other traditional forms of prayer include the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross. You might like to pray either of these prayers at least once a week, and even every day if that is possible. The third aspect of our Lenten practices, almsgiving, can be achieved in any number of ways. You might simply like to contribute to Project Compassion; you might want to continue supporting our rural families recovering from drought and bushfire; you might give of your time by phoning elderly friends, relations and neighbours who may be experiencing a time of loneliness and isolation because of the restrictions we are living under. This certainly is a Lent like no other, but we can be certain that Jesus journeys with us. He died and rose so that we could have “life to the full” and to one day enter into the joy of heaven. Let us take the opportunity to make this Lent a time of rich growth despite the uncertainty and anxiety. Let us pray the words of Psalm 62: “In God alone is my soul at rest; my help comes from God who is alone my rock and stronghold.” Let us trust in God at all times; let us pour out our hearts to God who always listens and who, like a loving parent, tenderly holds us close and will never forsake us.
Prepared for the Office for Worship website by Dr Jenny O’Brien 25.3.20