From Ashes to Easter
In Lent we begin our journey to the great feast of Easter. That journey begins in ashes on Ash Wednesday and ends in water at the Easter Vigil. The marking with ash on our forehead echoes the first marking of us with the sign of the Cross at Baptism. Being blessed with water at the Easter Vigil echoes our first blessing in water at Baptism. The Sign of the Cross, in ash and water, marks the beginning and end of our journey.
Two Great Themes: Baptism And Penance
Our preparation for Easter is dominated by two great themes: baptism and penance. Recalling our baptism and practising penance helps us to prepare for Easter. We recall God’s grace in which we have been baptised. We honestly take account of where we stand in our following of Christ. What baptism began in us can readily be undone. Coming back to baptism is hard work, like pruning vines. It takes discipline and commitment to enter into renewal and to find the way to refresh our faith and turn again towards God.
The discipline of repentance helps focus our energy on the task at hand. Our penance is not a self-imposed punishment for sinfulness. It is a sign of our gratitude to God for the forgiveness and healing we receive in Christ.
Our self-examination during the Season is not an end in itself. It leads us to a fresh discovery of forgiveness and to know how to better follow Christ.
The Lenten Journey
Three traditional elements of Lent guide our conversion: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Prayer - Our prayer takes two forms: public and private.
Our public prayer at Mass on Sunday takes on a simpler and more penitential character.
The Psalms and Gospel Acclamations echo the reading and prayers of each Sunday.
The season of Lent focuses on our Christian journey towards Christ the Light. The festival of light at the Easter Vigil is the highpoint of our liturgical journey.
The Gospel readings for each Sunday in Lent have the themes of Temptation, Transfiguration, Life nurtured, life restored, death forestalled.
Each Sunday you are invited to listen closely to the weekly scripture readings and in the style of Lectio Divina, centre on a word, a phrase or an idea that captures your attention.
In each church the Lenten Cross will be entwined in vine branches. Coloured paper leaves will be available on which to write your prayerful thoughts. The leaves will be added to the vine each week to enable a dynamic flowering; a visible expression of the Word of God taking hold in our hearts. Leaves will be available at the back of both churches and baskets for collection at the foot of the Cross.
In our private prayer we reflect on these themes and the Gospel readings that explore them. Within our parish there are other opportunities for prayer and reflection with others which in turn can nourish our private prayer. Details of our Lenten Program We Wish to See Jesus and weekly Lectio Divina are in this newsletter.
As well, each week through the newsletter we will have the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the Gospel for the following Sunday, to reflect on ways we can integrate what we have learnt and to clarify positive actions to take in our lives this Lent.
These reflections can inspire us to quiet prayer by ourselves, or to pray with our families and friends.
Fasting & Almsgiving - Two Sides Of The Same Coin
Our penance takes two forms: public and private.
As a whole Church, and in public solidarity with each other, we fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. All those who have completed their 18th year and not yet begun their 60th year fast and all those who have completed their 14th year abstain from eating meat on these days.
During Lent we are encouraged to find our own ways of expressing our thanks for God’s love. The penitential action we undertake should have both a spiritual and a practical dimension. For example, our self-examination might lead us to identify what we need to abstain from in order to live better. Perhaps we need to fast from being so critical of each other so that others are spared our negativity; from too much work in order to spend more time with those we love; from our ceaseless activity so that we can put a little breath back into our lives, to really become aware of God’s presence in us, making us easier people to live with.
Whatever form our penance takes it should always result in a benefit for others. Our fasting from food, for example enables us to contribute alms in the form of money to the welfare of the poor. Almsgiving is the material and spiritual benefit which we make available to others so that they can live well too.
Contributing through the Project Compassion money boxes and envelopes is a good way of letting our penance do good for someone else. We all have a role to play in empowering people to help themselves. Enabling self-help is the key to Caritas’ Project Compassion which operates world-wide including Australia. Through your sacrifice you can make a practical difference to the lives of people in Mozambique. Bolivia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and indigenous Australians. More details are in this newsletter.
In Lent we draw strength from each other as we journey together in faith and hope towards the Light of Christ. No long faces or gloomy looks for this Season. We confront our weaknesses surrounded by God’s never-ending forgiveness and love. We are forgiven, put back together in Christ. We move forward to Easter in faith, hope and love.
“But now, now - it is the Lord who speaks -
come back to me with all your heart,
fasting, weeping, mourning.”
Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn;
turn to the Lord your God again,
for he is all tenderness and compassion,
slow to anger and rich in graciousness,
and ready to relent. (Joel 2:12-18)