Lent is a time of repentance for our sins of the past, plus asking God for the grace to be more focused on Christ for the future. Ashes are an ancient sign of repentance. Ash Wednesday is a time to remember, O Human, that you are dust and into dust you shall return. It is a period of 40 days, like Jesus endured, as a way to purify the mind and the heart to seek God clearly.
Ashes are an outward sign of interior conversion and transformation. Soon after Christ died, there were those who, like the Essenes before them, wanted to experience a purification of mind and body to be able to approach God as Christ instructed, “learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls.”
A LAY CISTERCIAN REFLECTS ON LENTEN PENANCE
There is one thing about fasting that puzzles me. When Christ was led into the desert to be tempted, this was a time for him to fast and pray that he not be tempted. Was it a real 40 days of fasting without water or food? What human can last 40 days without food or water? I don’t know of any. Maybe the 40 days refers to the 40 years Moses wandered in the desert. The Israelites had no food or water other than what God gave them. Do you see a similarity here? If no human can survive without food or water and live, and Christ is like us in all things but sin, then the 40 days must be a period of time during which Christ wandered in the desert. Satan attacked not his divinity, which the Devil could not approach, but Christ’s humanity, and the interface between His human nature and the divine nature. Fasting and prayer were the contemplative ways that Christ used to gain mastery over his human tendencies of Original Sin. Like Baptism, Christ exposed his human nature to the effects of Original Sin to show us how to overcome temptation and its allure of false meaning. Lent is a period that precedes the Resurrection. It purifies the soul even today as it did for countless men and women who went out in the desert to purify themselves of their false self to be able to put on the white garments of the Resurrection to a new life in Christ. Over and over, we actually do the life that Christ lived through the liturgical year. The point of placing ourselves in the presence of the Holy Spirit so as to make all things new, once again, is building up the capacity for God to grow in us and we decrease.
Lent is a time in the Church calendar when we make the temptations of Christ real for us by doing something to bring us closer to the heart of Christ. Lent is such a time, one where we do something to remind us that nourishment of the body with food and water is necessary but nourishment of the soul allows us to fulfill our destiny as humans.
At Baptism, Christ gives us several gifts to help sustain us on our journey to Forever. Everyone receives these gifts but not everyone wants them or knows how to use them. One of my six foundational principles of being human is living in three universes (physical, mental, and spiritual) and not just in two (physical and mental). One gift is a set of special glasses, ones that allow us to see reality in 3U or three universes. Unlike the early Gnostic followers who thought that only select people (Illuminati) could know the secrets of being like God, the Church Universal says that all people have been redeemed, but that free will allows us to respond to Faith in ways that are appropriate. To help us on our way, the Church Universal is there to provide insights into the way, the truth, and the life. The church is not the way, but Christ is, and the Church Universal is the living body of Christ in each age. Lent with its emphasis on fasting and prayer is a time to immerse ourselves in the life of Christ. Christ himself gives us the grace to see what cannot be seen (living in just two universes) and to understand what we hear.
Another gift is a set of hearing aids. Glasses help those who cannot see to make sense of images, and hearing aids help us to hear. What is different about these glasses and hearing aids is that they allow us to see and hear in three universes, not just two. As it says in Scriptures: Matthew 13 NRSVCE – The Parable of the Sower –
|13 The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not |
perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’
14 With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says:‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of
hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn— and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
17 Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.
Lent, as St. Benedict points out to his monks in Chapter 49 of the Rule, isa yearly task, and it only intensifies during this liturgical season of
penance and mortification. Chapter 4 of the Rule states that “…your way must be different from the world’s way. the love of Christ must come before all else.
Characteristics of Fasting for a Broken-Down, old Lay Cistercian
THE POINT (AT LAST)
Anthony of the Desert was a person who wished to deny himself, take up his cross and follow Christ. His writings: Sayings of the Desert Fathers represents an important insight into how fourth-century cenobites (monks) sought to transform themselves into Christ.
ACTIVITIES FOR LENT
Read these 39 sayings as part of your Lenten Penance. Read one a day for each day of Lent. Reflect on the meaning of each one and ask yourself what it means for your daily living out of the Life of Christ during Lent.
1. When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by accidie, and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, “Lord, I wand to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?” A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony say a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down again and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
2. When the same Abba Anthony thought about the depth of the judgments of God, he asked, “Lord, how is it that some die when they are young, while others drag on to extreme old age? Why are there those who are poor and those who are rich? Why do wicked men proper and why are the just in need? He heard a voice answering him, “Anthony, keep your attention on yourself; these things are according to the judgment of God, and it is not to your advantage to known anything about them.”
3. Someone asked Abba Anthony, “What must one do in order to please God?” The old man replied, “Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes, whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”
4. Abba Anthony said to Abba Poemen, “This is the great work of man: always to take the blame for his own sins before God and to expect temptation to his last breath.
5. He also said, “Whoever has not experienced temptation cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” He even added, “Without temptations no-one can be saved.”
6. Abba Pambo asked Abba Anthony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”
7. Abba Anthony said, “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.'”
8. He also said, “Some have afflicted their bodies by asceticism, but they lack discernment, and so they are far from God.”
9. He said also, “Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.”
10. He also said, “Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of the world lose the intensity of inner peace. SO like a fish going towards the sea, we must hurry to reach our cell, for fear that if we delay outside we will lost our interior watchfulness.”
11. He said also, “He who wishes to live in solitude in the desert is delivered from three conflicts: hearing, speech, and sight; there is only one conflict for him and that is with fornication.”
12. Some brothers came to find Abba Anthony to tell him about the visions they were having, and to find out from him if they were true or if they came from the demons. They had a donkey which died on the way. When they reached the place where the old man was, he said to them before they could ask him anything, “How was is that the little donkey died on the way here?” They said, “How do you know about that, Father?” And he told them, “The demons shewed me what happened.” So they said, “That was what we came to question you about, for fear we were being deceived, for we have visions which often turn out to be true.” Thus the old man convinced them, by the example of the donkey, that their visions came from the demons.
13. A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him, “Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.” So he did. The old man then said, “Shoot another,” and he did so. Then the old man said, ‘Shoot yet again,” and the hunter replied “If I bend my bow so much I will break it.” Then the old man said to him, “It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.” When he heard these words the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they went home strengthened.
14. Abba Anthony heard of a very young monk who had performed a miracle on the road. Seeing the old man walking with difficulty along the road, he ordered the wild asses to come and carry them until they reached Abba Anthony. He said to them, “This monk seems to me to a ship loaded with goods but I do not know if he will reach harbor.” After a while, Anthony suddenly began to weep, to tear his hair and lament. His disciples said to him, “Why are you weeping, Father?” and the old man replied, “A great pillar of the Church has just fallen (he meant the young monk) but go to him and see what has happened.” So the disciples went and found the monk sitting on a mat and weeping for the sin he had committed. Seeing the disciples of the old man he said, “Tell the old man to pray that God will give me just ten days and I hope I will have made satisfaction.” But in the space of five days he died.
15. The brothers praised a monk before Abba Anthony. When the monk came to see him, Anthony wanted to know how he would bear insults; and seeing that he could not bear them at all, he said to him, “You are like a village magnificently decorated on the outside, but destroyed from within by robbers.”
16. A brother said to Abba Anthony, “Pray for me.” The old man said to him, ” I will have no mercy upon you, nor will God have any, if you yourself do not make an effort and if you do not pray to God.
17. One day some old men came to see Abba Anthony. In the midst of them was Abba Joseph. Wanting to test them, the old man suggested a text from the Scriptures, and, beginning with the youngest, he asked them what it meant. Each gave his opinion as he was able. But to each one the old man said, “You have not understood it.” Last of all he said to Abba Joseph, “How would you explain this saying?” and he replied, “I do not know.” Then Abba Anthony said, “Indeed, Abba Joseph has found the way, for he has said: ‘I do not know.'”
18. Some brothers were coming from Scetis to see Abba Anthony. When they were getting into a boat to go there, they found an old man who also wanted to go there. The brothers did not know him. They sat in the boat, occupied by turns with the words of the Fathers, Scripture and their manual work. As for the old man, he remained silent. When they arrived on shore they found that the old man was going to the cell of Abba Anthony too. When they reached the place, Anthony said to them, “You found this old man a good companion for the journey?” Then he said to the old man, ” You have brought many good brethren with you, father.” The old man said, “No doubt they are good, but they do not have a door to their house and anyone who wishes can enter the stable and loose the ass.” He meant that the brethren said whatever came into their mouths.
19. The brethren came to the Abba Anthony and said to him, “Speak a word; how are we to be saved?” The old man said to them, “You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.” But they said, “We want to hear from you too, Father.” Then the old man said to them, “The Gospel says, ‘if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.'” (Matt. 5.39) They said, “We cannot do that.” The old man said, “If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.” “We cannot do that either,” they said. So he said, “If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil,” and they said, “We cannot do that either.” Then the old man said to his disciples, “Prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids. If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers.”
20. A brother renounced the world and gave his goods to the poor, but he kept back a little for his personal expenses. He went to see Abba Anthony. When he told him this, the old man said to him, “If you want to be a monk, go into the village, buy some meat, cover your naked body with it and come here like that.” The brother did so, and the dogs and birds tore at his flesh. When he came back the old man asked him whether he had followed his advice. He showed him his wounded body, and Saint Anthony said, “Those who renounce the world but want to keep something for themselves are torn in this way by the demons who make war on them.”
21. It happened one day that one of the brethren in the monastery of Abba Elias was tempted. Cast out of the monastery, he went over the mountain to Abba Anthony. The brother lived hear him for a while and then Anthony sent him back to the monastery from which he had been expelled. When the brothers saw him they cast him out yet again, and he went back to Abba Anthony saying, “My Father, they will not receive me.” Then the old man sent them a message saying, “A boat was shipwrecked at sea and lost its cargo; with great difficulty it reached the shore; but you want to throw into the sea that which has found a safe harbor on the shore.” When the brothers understood that it was Abba Anthony who had sent them this monk, they received him at once.
22. Abba Anthony said, “I believe that the body possesses a natural movement, to which it is adapted, but which it cannot follow without the consent of the soul; it only signifies in the body a movement without passion. There is another movement, which comes from the nourishment and warming of the body by eating and drinking, and this causes the heat of the blood to stir up the body to work. That is why the apostle said, ‘Do not get drunk with win for that is debauchery.’ (Ephes. 5.18) And in the Gospel the Lord also recommends this to his disciples: ‘Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness.’ (Luke 21.34) But there is yet another movement which afflicts those who fight, and that comes from the wiles and jealousy of the demons. You must understand what these three bodily movements are: one is natural, one comes from too much to eat, the third is caused by the demons.”
23. He also said, “God does not allow the same warfare and temptations to this generation as he did formerly, for men are weaker now and cannot bear so much.”
24. It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.
25. Abba Anthony said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.'”
26. The brethren came to Abba Anthony and laid before him a passage from Leviticus. The old man went out into the desert, secretly followed by Abba Ammonas, who knew that this was his custom. Abba Anthony went a long way off and stood there praying, crying in a loud voice, “God, send Moses, to make me understand this saying,” Then there came a voice speaking with him. Abba Ammonas said that although he heard the voice speaking with him, he could not understand what it said.
27. Three Fathers used to go and visit blessed Anthony every year and two of them used to discuss their thoughts and the salvation of their souls with him, but the third always remained silent and did not ask him anything. After a long time, Abba Anthony said to him, “You often come here to see me, but you never ask me anything,” and the other replied, “It is enough fo rme to see you, Father.”
28. They said that a certain old man asked God to let him see the Fathers and he saw them all except Abba Anthony. So he asked his guide, “Where is Abba Anthony?” He told him in reply that in the place where God is, there Anthony would be.
29. A brother in a monastery was falsely accused of fornication and he arose and went to Abba Anthony. The brethren also came from the monastery to correct him and bring him back. They set about proving that he had done this thing, but he defended himself and denied that he had done anything of the kind. Now Abba Paphnutius, who is called Cephalus, happened to be there, and he told them this parable: “I have seen a man on the bank of the river buried up to his knees in mud and some men came to give him a hand to help him out, but they pushed him further in up to his neck.” Then Abba Anthony said this about Abba Paphnutius: “Here is a real man, who can care for souls and save them.” All those present were pierced to the heart by the words of the old man and they asked forgiveness of the brother. So, admonished by the Fathers, they took the brother back to the monastery.
30. Some say of Saint Anthony that he was “Spirit-borne,” that is, carried along by the Holy Spirit, but he would never speak of this to men. Such men see what is happening in the world, as well as knowing what is going to happen.
31. One day Abba Anthony received a letter from the Emperor Constantius, asking him to come to Constantinople and he wondered whether he ought to go. So he said to Abba Paul, his disciple, “Ought I to go?” He replied, “If you go, you will be called Anthony; but if you stay here, you will be called Abba Anthony.”
32. Abba Anthony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.” (John 4.18)
33. He also said, “Always have the fear of God before your eyes. Remember him who gives death and life. Hate the world and all that is in it. Hate all peace that comes from the flesh. Renounce this life, so that you may be alive to God. Remember what you have promised God, for it will be required of you on the day of judgment. Suffer hunger, thirst, nakedness, be watchful and sorrowful; weep, and groan in your heart; test yourselves, to see if you are worthy of God; despise the flesh, so that you may preserve your souls.
34. Abba Anthony once went to visit Abba Amoun in Mount Nitria and when they met, Abba Amoun said, “By your prayers, the number of the brethren increases, and some of them want to build more cells where they may live in peace. How far away from here do you think we should build the cells?” Abba Anthony said, “Let us eat at the ninth hour and then let us go out for a walk in the desert and explore the country.” So they went out into the desert and they walked until sunset and then Abba Anthony said, “Let us pray and plant the cross here, so that those who wish to do so may build here. Then when those who remain there want to visit those who have come here, they can take a little food at the ninth hour and then come. If they do this, they will be able to keep in touch with each other without distraction of mind.” The distance is twelve miles.
35. Abba Anthony said, “Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virute we want to forge or we labor in vain.”
36. He also said, “Obedience with abstinence gives men power over wild beasts.”
37. He also said, “Nine monks fell away after many labors and were obsessed with spiritual pride, for they put their trust in their own works and being deceived they did not give due heed to the commandment that says, ‘Ask your father and he will tell you.'” (Deut. 32.7)
38. And he said this, “If he is able to, a monk ought to tell his elders confidently how many steps he takes and how many drops of water he drinks in his cell, in case he is in error about it.”
Read this excerpt from the Rule of St. Benedict on Lent. What three ideas seem to apply to you during this Lenten season?http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/0480-0547,_Benedictus_Nursinus,_Regola,_EN.pdf
CHAPTER XLIX On the Keeping of Lent The life of a monk ought always to be a Lenten observance. However, since such virtue is that of few, we advise that during these days of Lent he guard his life with all purity and at the same time wash away during these holy days all the shortcomings of other times. This will then be worthily done if we restrain ourselves from all vices. Let us devote ourselves to tearful prayers, to reading and compunction of heart, and to abstinence. During these days, therefore, let us add something to the usual amount of our service, special prayers, abstinence from food and drink, that each one offer to God “with the joy of the Holy Ghost” (1 Thes 1:6), of his own accord, something above his prescribed measure; namely, let him withdraw from his body somewhat of food, drink, sleep, speech, merriment, and with the gladness of spiritual desire await holy Easter. Let each one, however, make known to his Abbot what he offereth and let it be done with his approval and blessing; because what is done without permission of the spiritual father will be imputed to presumption and vainglory, and not to merit. Therefore, let all be done with the approval of the Abbot.
St. Benedict told his monks and nuns (and us) that Lent lasts all year around. For the rest of us, we might consider doing something extra during Lent, over and above the normal Cistercian practices we have in our daily schedule. Brother Cassian, O.C.S.O. handed out the following recommendations to the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist)at our last Gathering Day. I share them with you because they are based on Chapter 49 (above) and give a deeper dive into Lent. Remember, what we are about is the transformation from our false self to our true self in Christ. Fasting and prayer help us become what we pray. Below you will find what Brother Cassian suggests and I have put down what I will do over and above my daily Cistercian practices in italics (as an example). You might wish to fill in something different.
In order to I will
What will you do that you have not up to this point to increase the love of Christ in you for others?
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the Ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian Doxology