Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bad Lent

Gosh! Isn't Lent Depressing?
Maybe it is a sign of gently aging, not being able to cope with change and all that stuff, but as far as I remember Lent hs alays been pretty depressing.

The first week one embraces the fasting with vigour, little food on Wednesdays and Fridays, no meat except on Sundays, getting up earlier for prayer, spending more time in prayer during the day, trying to say the hours of the Office at the proper time, cutting down on noise in the house, keeping the telivison off, and within a week, the knees begin to buckle.

Getting up early means you fall asleep during the day, spending more time in prayer leads you to getting annoyed when the doorbell or the phone rings and disturbs your prayer time, the same when you go into the Church to say Sext at noon and you are halfway through and someone needs you for half an hour, and dispite your good intention it is past 11 o'clock before you say Vesper and you doze off during Compline and have to restart the psalms because you are not sure you've said them. As for fasting, that too just makes you grumpy, no radical purification of the soul, just thoughts of how dull lentil soup is, and dissappointment at how easily distracted you are.
After just a week I have started to long for the end of Lent, normally I start mitigating things a little after a couple of weeks, or just looking forward to the Lord's Day just to relax things a bit, then by Passiontide when the statues are veiled become a bit more rigorous, but always by the end of Lent I am pretty convinced I have had a pretty bad Lent.
I am sure that the main purpose of Lent is to teach us that we really are frail human beings without the ability too change ourselves much. Our own attempts at virtue are revealed as mere vanity. We end up by realising the folly of a Pelagian self improvement scheme, which tends to be the result of a good Lent, a bad Lent tends to teach us that everything that is good or virtuous comes from God and without him - well, it's disaster...
Non nobis Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam...

Maybe we learn more from losing battles in the Spiritual Life than winning them.
Not to us, O Lord but to Your Name be the Glory.


Christopher said...

Thanks for this post Father-
It really put things in perspective for me.
Just what I needed to hear..errr... Read!

Laurence England said...

Very good, Father. I'm not making a particularly good Lent, but hey, it's 9:36am and I am out of bed! Praise be to God!

ukok said...

Well it's very encouraging to me to read this as i kicked off Lent eating meat on a day of fasting and abstainance - i am tempted to blame my neuro probs for that, but i won't, i simply got muddled with my days of the week and didn't realise it was Ash Wednesday. I am trying to compensate by saying the Morning Prayers of the Office - but sometimes i end up praying them nearer to midnight rather than in the morning.

The intent to live out the penitential practices are certainly 'there', but the flesh is oh so feeble, forgetful and weak!

Your post was so refreshing.

old believer said...

The traditional practice, before the 1960s, was to say Vespers before midday in Lent. I have always found this a delightful feature of the Old Rite and really brings home how different Lent is from the rest of the year.

Anonymous said...

Father that is very well said. I would agree with it. I seem to long for Sunday. I don't eat meat anyway and haven't for years so now I give up (or try) to give up eggs and rich things for Sunday. I've been trying to old fast every day of 2 collations and a main meal. I find myself falling asleep during my evening rosary. I suppose all we can do is give our best.

Michael Clifton said...

May I just say that your programme for Lenten observance seems to me to be rather over the top. I would be very surprised if you were able to keep it up for the wholeof Lent so why not concentrate on just one or two of the features you list ?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Father, You do your Lent your way and I'll do mine mine!

gemoftheocean said...

Dear Fr Blake,

Think of your work as a priest as a prayer in itself. When you give of yourself to minister to the people of God when they are in need you are doing the work of God. That's your opportunity to be in persona Christi for someone.

And I suppose sometimes for some people to even approach a priest for that which may seem on the surface "trivial" (to the priest anyway) they may be testing the waters with you to see how they think you might be in opening up their soul to you! I bet if you made a special effort to greet everyone with a smile if they are "interrupting" your prayers that will make God shine his face on you too.


Fr Ray Blake said...

Gem, Priests need to pray, dashing around doing good is not the same thing. Serving people, even prayerfully is not prayer.
One can't give if one hasn't received!

georgem said...

I am trying something a bit different this year, apart from abstaining from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, no dining out and ditching cakes, chocs, pies, Chinese, Indian, pizzas. I’ve vowed to eat everything that’s in the freezer. It’s a real trial because when it comes to it, I don’t really fancy anything that’s in there. But NO slacking and buying something on a whim. I am ploughing my way through, and cooking everything plain. Boiled spuds and poached fish with no sauce or flavouring (yuk). Even a lunchtime sandwich is more appetising.
But I’m not making a good Lent so far. I should be offering more prayers and so far I have fallen down there. I’ll see if I can make a start tonight with a decade of the rosary. Right, I’ve said it, so I’ll have to do it.
Thanks for the nudge, Father.

gemoftheocean said...

I didn't mean not "pray" pray, Father. Just not be such a grump if you don't get to pray at the exact time. God won't mind if you end up not doing the prayer at X time of the day. [It's "X" time fo the day somewhere. :-D]

Remember the bit in "The Cardinal" [if you've read it] where at the 1st Mass a priest ever said, he was saddled with a young server who made a hash of it. At first he was mad at the kid for "ruining" what he wanted to go perfectly well, but then realized that maybe what God was telling him was that he (The priest) needed a reality check. :-D

all good things, tibi Patre

Moretben said...

Dear Father

Do you think that if there was perhaps more fasting generally in the Latin rite, Lent would not appear so uniquely desolate? Byzantine-rite Christians fast about half the year, according to a quick calculation, with the "strict fast" (no meat, dairy, eggs, oil fish or wine) predominating. One gets used to it, but it's important not to be legalistic about it, or to beat oneself up over honest weakness.

Fasting is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and we shouldn't think we're gaining "merit" by it. All we do by fasting is put our nature to the plough, to "turn ourselves over" so that our hearts will not be stony ground in which the Seed freely offered takes no permanent or effective root. "Full bellies go with hard hearts". And being hungry speaks to our mortality like nothing else, so that we can't hide from the reality of our frail and contingent nature. No-one who goes hungry during the day and prays (for example) the Prayer of St Ephrem when he gets home at night, staying close to the Lenten liturgy, will EVER run the risk of "self-improved" pride!

I think, on a practical note, that it's far better to start modestly and perhaps tighten up as the season advances, than to set the bar too high at the beginning and succumb to discouragement. As St Benedict advises, "set the table for the weakest of the brethren" - in other words, oneself. In any event, it's "medicine" - take it or don't take it - our choice, our responsibility. It's not a question of legal but of therapeutic prescription.

nickbris said...

During Ramadan Muslims abstain from everything between the hours of sunrise & sunset,they do tend to get a bit tetchy towards the end of the day and even more so after about three weeks.They say it makes them understand how destitute people feel and brings them closer to God.

However they more than make up for the FAST in the evening and early morning.Some of them tell me that a lot of them actually put on weight.

Fr Ray Blake said...

My point in part was Lent is about "playing up and playing the game", it is an exploration of weekness. Better to learn humility through failure, than pride through success.

brian said...


An inspirational post!

Thank you


Terra said...

Fr Mark over at Vultus Christi has a nice post worth a read on the disruptive grace of Lent. I think its a nice counter to our admitted tendency to Pelagianism!

Terry Nelson said...

Praise God! I felt like such an outlaw before reading this post. Thanks so much!

Sharon said...

Father, thank you for this post. I thought I was the only one who finds trying to make a good Lent hard going.

pelerin said...

'Better to learn humility through failure than pride through success.'

A wonderful thought to remember through Lent, and beyond. Thank you Father for your deep insight into our cherished Faith.