A Message on Lent by Archbishop Mark Haverland

I found this touching message by our Metropolitan on Facebook:

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‘Lent’ is derived from the Germanic word for ‘spring’ through Anglo‑Saxon. ‘Lenz’ is still the word for spring in modern German. ‘Lent’ also is related to the English words ‘length’ and ‘lengthen’. Lent/spring is the time when the days lengthen and when plants lengthen in new growth. On a deeper level Lent is for many Christians who keep the Church year the supreme time for spiritual growth and renewal. The outward austerities and disciplines of Lent at first seem to run counter to the greening and cheerful face of the natural world around us – perhaps especially in sunny Georgia and especially when Lent and Easter are not as early as they are in 2016. But if we keep Lent aright, then with the renewed spiritual seriousness of Lent and through fulfilment of its duties there will come to us an inner refreshment and vitality.

Physical exercise is almost always healthy, but it usually is particularly so when we push ourselves a little past the point of comfort and ease. When the muscles begin to burn a little, when the heart rate rises, when the perspiration flows, then we have gone beyond the point of maintaining our condition to that of improvement and strengthening.

Lent similarly is the time when we go beyond our normal rule of life and our spiritual routine to push ourselves into new territory where real growth can occur. Priests, for instance, are always obliged to say the daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer, and that Office is an habitual source of spiritual order, orientation towards God, and Scriptural nourishment. I certainly hope that all priests are also engaged in daily intercessions, self‑examination, and thanksgiving. But Lent is the time to reach beyond this minimal duty, perhaps by lengthening a daily mediation, adding a new devotion, or disciplining ourselves to say the Office at more fixed and regular hours. And what is true for priests is just as true for the laity. Lent is the time to become more regular and careful in our Christian living. Likewise Lenten prayer might well include spiritual reading – finding a book about prayer or the lives of the saints or doctrine which is instructive and edifying. For many churchmen Lenten prayer includes adding a weekday Mass, a weekly devotion such as Stations of the Cross, or a Lenten confession combined with more intensive self-examination.

Prayer, almsgiving, and fasting are the Three Notable Duties of Lent. We all should form a rule for Lent that includes all three duties, and that rule will fit the specific and unique circumstances of the individual. In general it is better to have a simple rule that we will meet or exceed than a complex and difficult rule that we will fail to keep. Speak to your priest or spiritual director if you would like some guidance in the matter. In any case, all rules should include the Three Notable Duties, which are designed to help our totality of relationships:

Prayer is directed towards improving our relationship with God. Lenten prayer should help to deepen that relationship through more or better time spent with God.
Fasting is directed towards our relationship with ourselves. Lenten fasting should help to deepen our self‑control and the subjection of our bodies, minds, and souls to the will of God and of our bodies to our minds and souls.

Almsgiving is to help right our relationship with others. By showing concrete care through gifts of time, talent, and treasure, we help to set right that which sin disrupts.

The Church provides most guidance in the matter of fasting, which includes what more strictly are ‘fasting’ and ‘abstinence’.

‘Abstinence’ means lessening the quality of what we consume, particularly by abstaining in Lent from meat on Wednesdays (the day of Christ’s betrayal) and Fridays (the day of Christ’s death). ‘Meat’ means flesh meat, including fowl but not including seafood (fish, shellfish).

‘Fasting’ means lessening the amount of what we consume. Traditionally this meant eating only one meal in Lent, but in modern times it meant eating one full meal (including meat, except on Wednesdays and Fridays) and one ‘collation’ – a light meal. Often now, except on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the Lenten fast is mitigated further to ‘giving up’ something. The something, obviously, should be something important to the individual. It might be food (for example, all meat, all alcohol, or all sweets) or something involving entertainment (television, the internet, eating meals ‘out’, or music). It is particularly desirable that the fast should lessen our spending, thereby freeing up money to switch towards Lenten almsgiving.

The Lenten fast, whatever the individual’s rule, is observed Monday through Saturday, but not on Sundays, which as weekly renewals of Easter are never days of fasting, abstinence, or penitence.

Fasting should take into account the individual’s health and state of life. The very elderly, little children, the sick, those engaged in very heavy manual labor, and those with no control over their diet (such as prisoners or soldiers) are exempted from most kinds of fasting.

Lent is not always a matter of ‘more’ – more time in prayer, more money given to charity, more things ‘given up’. Sometimes we do not so much need to take on more as to deepen or improve what we already do. The layman who spends ten minutes in nighttime prayers might not need to turn that into 15 minutes. Perhaps what he needs is to change the nature or circumstances of the current ten. As C.S. Lewis once observed, the last, tired, ragged moments of consciousness are not usually the best offering we can make to God. Perhaps during Lent we could continue with ten minutes but should spend that ten minutes a bit earlier in the evening when we are more alert. Or instead of praying in bed we should sit in a chair or kneel.

Likewise perhaps our almsgiving could be improved from sending off a check on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Perhaps we might consider a careful examination of the way we spend our money all of the time. For some of us that would be a penitential discipline by itself. If we are more deliberate and careful we might find that we can free up more money all of the time for giving to the Church and the needy. Or again, we might find that we simply have no more money to give no matter how careful we are, but that we do have time to volunteer to help an elderly neighbor or a local charitable organization. Since the point of almsgiving is to help heal our relations with others, an excellent Lenten act is to repair a broken relationship: to seek forgiveness for a past injury we have inflicted or to extend forgiveness to others for a past injury done to ourselves. Healing damaged relationships may not be what we usually think of as almsgiving, but both are directed towards much the same goal.

Obviously the Notable Duties are pointless if we do not during Lent also strive to fast from sin. Lent should not be a matter of mechanical duties ticked off a list, but a renewal of devotion and of love, embracing God and neighbor and self. Since sin interferes with all devotion and all real love (including real and ordinate love of self), Lent is not least a time of warfare waged against selfishness and sin. But if we keep a devout and godly Lent, embracing sincere prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, then it will help us renew our lives so that we may say annually with the great Anglican priest-poet, George Herbert: ‘Welcome, dear feast of Lent!’

— +MDH


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