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The CWR Blog
Articles, essays, reflections, and prayers for the Great Fast
A woman receives ashes on Ash Wednesday at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York March 5. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Meatless links, it goes without saying.

• On Catholic World Report, Mark Shea writes about "living lent in the fast lane":

Lent is the reminder that all this sort of thinking is, well, ashes. Bupkis. Skubala. “Refuse”—as English translators of Scripture politely put it. It’s the reminder that this passing world is passing indeed and that none of that stuff is going to matter in the final analysis. Lent is for focusing the mind, heart, and spirit on God: for getting away from it all, not on an all-expense-paid Lenten Caribbean Cruise, but to the desert.

That’s the first thing to notice about Lent: the desert. One of the striking insights that Christianity carries over from Judaism is that spiritual purification happens in the desert, not in a leafy glade. It’s not something we like, but it is something we intuit is true nonetheless. Israel escapes Egypt and begins a journey that, for the ancient trade caravans, took eleven days. But for the People of God, it takes forty years. Why? Because that’s what it took. Getting Israel out of Egypt was easy. Getting Egypt out of Israel? That took some doing. A whole generation would have to die off and a new one, purified by the astringency of the desert, would have to arise before Israel was ready to enter the Promised Land.

• Also on CWR, Dr. Adam DeVille considers the different approaches taken to fasting in the Western and Eastern churches:

On paper, Eastern fasting discipline—about which I have published several articles over the last dozen years—seems very strict indeed (though in practice not everyone follows it); and on paper Western fasting discipline seems rather minimal—though in practice nothing prevents Western Christians from undertaking a more rigorous fast. But both disciplines currently have some rather strange logic behind them, which I wish to challenge here by means of a “scholastic” method. I shall consider the question in two articles.

Homiletic & Pastoral Review has posted two Lenten pieces: an essay, "Lent: A Time for Conversion", by Fr. Richard Gribble, CSC, and a reflection by HPR's editor, Fr. David Vincent Meconi, SJ, titled, "Our Lenten Imitation of Christ"

• In an excerpt from his book, Evangelical Is Not Enough, Dr. Thomas Howard writes:

Lent, like Advent, is a time of penitence. Here we identify ourselves with the Lord's fast and ordeal in the wilderness, which He bore for us.

This raises a point worth noting in passing. There are some varieties of Protestant theology and spirituality that so stress "the finished work of Christ" and the fact that He accomplished everything, that they leave no room at all for any participation on our part. Such participation, encouraged by the ancient Church, does not mean that we mortals claim any of the merit that attaches to Christ's work, much less that we can by one thousandth particle add to His work. Nevertheless, the gospel teaches us that Christians are more than mere followers of Christ. We are His Body and are drawn, somehow, into His own sufferings. We are even "crucified" with Him.

Read the entire piece on Insight Scoop.

• In the essay, "Lent: Why the Christian Must Deny Himself", written many years ago but worth revisiting, Benedictine Brother Austin G. Murphy writes:

We can be grateful that the customs of giving up something for Lent and abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent have survived in our secular society. But, unfortunately, it is doubtful that many practice them with understanding. Many perform them in good faith and with a vague sense of their value, and this is commendable. But if these acts of self-denial were better understood, they could be practiced with greater profit. Otherwise, they run the risk of falling out of use.

A greater understanding of the practice of self-denial would naturally benefit those who customarily exercise it during Lent. Better comprehension of self-denial would also positively affect the way Christians live throughout the year. The importance of self-denial can be seen if we look specifically at fasting and use it as an example of self-denial in general. Indeed, fasting, for those who can practice it, is a crucial part of voluntary self-denial.

But since we live in a consumerist society, where self-indulgence rather than self-denial is the rule, any suggestion to fast will sound strange to many ears. It is bound to arouse the questions: Why is fasting important? Why must a Christian practice it? Using these questions as a framework, we can construct one explanation, among many possible ones, of the importance of self-denial.

The full essay can be read on Ignatius Insight.

• My feature article, "Pray your way through Lent", is available Our Sunday Visitor's website. In it, I offer Scriptural reflections on each week of Lent, based on the readings for Mass, along with a short prayer. Here is the first one, for the week of Ash Wednesday. Here are direct links:

The entire piece, with graphics, can be downloaded as a PDF. I also put together a guide to reflecting upon and praying more deeply the "Our Father".

• The Magis Center, founded by Fr. Robert Spitzer, SJ, has daily reflections for Lent based in Ignatian spirituality. From today's edition:

Sin is disorder.

Lent is an opportunity for us to repent and re-order our lives to God. The first words of Scripture we hear today reflect this reality: Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning. Why such things? They remind us that we do not live on “bread alone” (Matt 4:4), and that it is God who fills us with joy and peace (Romans 15:13). By fasting, by accepting our deep need for God we return to the natural order of things and find peace for, as St. Augustine has said, “Peace is the tranquility of order.” When all is right in the world, when we let God be God, we find peace and plenty for if God is our first desire, we are filled.

It is interesting, then, that so many Catholics who have in many respects turned away from their faith choose this day to return. There is something about the ritual of the ashes and the mark upon the forehead that draws them back. Some say they see it as an opportunity to publically announce their identity as Catholics; some just find the ritual of it to be otherwise rewarding. But what is really happening here.

• The Aggie Catholics site has a huge list of Lenten resources and links.

• A great musical resource is the newly released CD, "Lent at Ephesus", which was reviewed recently for CWR by Dr. Christopher Morrissey, professor of philosophy and Latin, and accomplished musician.

 
About the Author
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Carl E. Olson editor@catholicworldreport.com

Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight.
 
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