THE DISCIPLINE OF LENT
A talk by Sir Kt Vet Bro Cdr Dr Edmund S K Kwaw Supreme Director on Friday 7th March, 2014 at the Marshallan Grotto, Sekondi
The 40 days starting from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday, constitute the period of Lent. It is a penitential season marked by PRAYER, FASTING, ABSTINENCE and ALMSGIVING. However, the number of days is sometimes put at 46; and that is when it is extended from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday.
Ash Wednesday, the first day in Lent is the day when ashes made from branches of palm blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year, are blessed and placed on the foreheads of the faithful by the priest saying: “Remember, man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shall return”. This practice is meant to remind us of the past when ashes were sprinkled on the heads of public penitents. It also exults us to humble ourselves and mortify our bodies by penance before death comes to reduce us into dust.
The word Lent comes from LENCTEN a Saxon word meaning “The Spring season”. There is the possibility that the title Lent was chosen because Easter always falls on the Sunday after the Spring full moon. That is, the Sunday following the first full moon which occurs on or after March 21st. It is interesting to note that March 21st is the Spring or Vernal Equinox. It is the day when the sun crosses the Equator and day and night are of equal length. The earliest day of Easter is March 22nd and the latest April 25th. This probably makes Easter the only day in the church’s calendar which is determined by the phases of the Moon.
Indeed Penance is part of the Christian philosophy of life. Penance has to do with sin and conversion. It is the inner conversion from evil in and around us and a generous conversion in love of God. The means to achieve this inner conversion is by the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, charitable works (alms giving), abstinence and fasting. In this regard, the Gospel of Ash Wednesday taking from Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 advises us against making our Praying, Fasting and Alms giving a public show. There are a few points I would like us to take note of in our Lenten practices.
Our praying must be persistent and consistent (praying unceasingly).
60 years and above should not fast however, those who can embark on fasting.
We must do honest fasting i.e. we should not pile our breakfast, lunch and eat all at dinner. We can skip breakfast and have lunch and supper only that would be sufficient for those who are not strong.
“Any time is right for works of mercy but these days of Lent provide a special encouragement” St Leo the Great.
Abstinence – we are advised to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent however there are many people who abstain from many personal pleasures during Lent e.g. not drinking their favorite’s daily bottle of beer and instead resort to taking soft drinks only.
Others abstain from taking sweets like chocolates, sugar, etc. others also abstain from watching their favorite TV programmes during Lent.
My reflection on the real benefits of the Lenten practices of Fasting, Praying and Alms Giving led me to a Sermon written by Saint Peter Christologus Bishop titled PRAYER KNOCKS, FASTING OBTAINS, MERCY RECEIVES. It is this sermon I would like to share with you this evening.
Before I read the sermon I would like to consider the difference between the works obtain and receive. The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines obtains as to get something, to come to possess something (by buying, borrowing, etc). Receive is defined as get, accept or take (something sent or given) e.g. receive a letter or a phone call, etc.
Saint Christologus says that
“There are three things, my brethren, which cause faith to stand firm, devotion remain constant, and virtue to endure. They are PRAYER, FASTING AND MERCY (or Almsgiving). Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, and mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.
Fasting is the soul of prayer; mercy is the life blood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them. They cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy. If you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God’s ear to yourself.
When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy show mercy, if you look for kindness show kindness. If you want to receive, GIVE. If you want for yourself what you deny others, you asking is a mockery.
Let his be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy; show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you. Therefore let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favour.
Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others (Tobit 12:8-9). Prayer accompanied by fasting and giving to the poor is good, such giving to the poor, expiates sin and wins forgiveness and life everlasting in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God as the psalmist said in prophecy. A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.
Offer your soul to God make him an oblation of your fasting so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.
To make fasting acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by Mercy. Fasting dies up, when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting, as rain is to the earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit. When you fast, if your mercy is thin, your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore do not lose by saving but gather in by scattering. Give then to the poor and your give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.
To conclude I would like to quote from St Leo the Great
1. “In these acts of giving, do not fear a lack of means… There can be no shortage of material for generosity where it is Christ who feeds and it is Christ who is fed”.
2. “The giver of Alms should be free from anxiety and full of joy. His gain will be greatest when he back least for himself”. “He who provides the seed for the sower, will also provide bread for eating. He will provide more seed and will increase the harvest of your goodness in Christ Jesus”. (St. Paul the Apostle).
Reference from sermon by:
Saint Fr. Peter Chrysologus: Bishop
Resource material from
1. Complete Catholic Daily Companion pg. 280 – 181
2. New Saint Joseph Sunday Missal pg. 209
A 1. The heart is the window to the soul
2. The soul is like a prism designed to reflect the glory of God.
3. If there are impurities in the prism it cannot reflect the glory intended.
4. To bring clarity to the soul we must pray.
5. Only by prayer may all impurities be dissolved.
B The soul is a garden in which useless weeds are constantly springing up. By the practices of self-denial we continuously hold the shovel in our hands to uproot each one and cast them from our hearts.
C Your soul is that part of you that consists of your mind, character, thoughts and feelings (Gal 5).
A soulless person is one who lacks human qualities and the ability to feel or produce deep feelings.