Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Giving and giving up, the grace of Lent

LAST Wednesday you might have noticed a few people with a big black smudge on their forehead.

It was Ash Wednesday and I tend to be a bit heavy handed with the Ashes.

These are the burnt palms from last year, but like The Ashes from cricketing fame, they represent sorrow, a determination to do better, and become a thing in themselves — because they mark the beginning of the season of Lent.

Lent is a time characterised by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Prayer is essential to the life of a Christian. Through prayer our lives are more attuned to God’s ways and we seek to be one with God and our neighbour as we intercede for our local community, our divided country and our troubled world.

There is a great deal to pray for at the moment,and we will be praying for you!

Lent somehow gives us extra time to do this — it’s the grace of Lent.

As a rule, Christians are rubbish at fasting. Catholics are average. It’s our Muslim brothers and sisters who really understand the importance of fasting. I’ve had so many interesting conversations about fasting, usually in a taxi during Ramadan.

Following these conversations, I went vegetarian last Lent, which was really difficult for me, but as the weeks progressed, I saw the wisdom in this advice.

Usually, I have given up alcohol for Lent and each year it becomes that little bit harder, especially since I moved to Henley.

I often ask myself: do I possess my possessions or do my possessions possess me? This has a greater force in Lent. In a strange but liberating way, freedom is found, when we can let go of those things that bind us.

In our materialistic society this can easily be the case. We have an opportunity to address this imbalance — it’s the grace of Lent.

Almsgiving is a long Lenten tradition. In our Church, we have a special collection each week by which we can support a range of charities. This year we will support:

Mary’s Meals, which seeks to ensure that every child has one sustaining meal a day.

CAFOD, the Catholic agency for disaster relief and advancing long-term projects in the developing world.

Nomad, perhaps Henley’s greatest charity, which supports so many in our local community.

Fr Hudson’s Society, the Catholic long-term support of the orphan, widow, stranger and refugee close to home.

Friends of the Holy Land, an ecumenical agency which supports the ancient Christian communities.

However, the point of giving something up in Lent — be that alcohol, chocolate, sweets, meat, or anything else — is to give the money that would be spent on these items to the poor.

If in the meantime (I might lose a £ or two and a lb or two) it’s the grace of Lent. Why not give them a try?

I wish you a happy Lent!

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