Sunday, 29 March 2009

If today you don't hear his voice!

Passiontide marks the last stretch of Lent!

The key question is, how is your Lent going?

Throughout Passiontide, the antiphon for the invitory at matins (at least in the Benedictine Office) is 'If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart'. And the Gospel today puts the meaning of this with a nice counterpoint, with Our Lord's saying 'He who is of God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear is that you are not of God'.

It is a sharp warning, and I think one of the key things we should be listening for and embracing is the call to greater attention to our Lenten resolutions as we enter these last two weeks of the penitential season.

So far so good?

There are, I think three main possibilities - you've put in a reasonably good effort so far, and are hopefully feeling some positive benefits; you've been pathetically bad at keeping your resolutions or doing anything much; or you've kept the letter of the law in terms of doing something penitential, but its been a pretty lukewarm business.

Now if you are in either of the latter two categories, today is the day to make a new, firm resolution, and make the most of these last two weeks of Lent. There is nothing worse, I think, than tepidity, and if you really want to make the most of the feasting, spiritual and literal, that comes with Easter, you need to do some fasting first!

Flagging on fasting?

But even if you are (more or less) in the first category, you may well be flagging at this point (I know I am!).

I don't know about you, but even with the feasts of the last couple of weeks and one quasi-festal personal occasion courtesy of a visitor (the Rule of St Benedict has something of a let out clause on fasting when it comes to looking after visitors, although it is certainly possible to stick to the letter of the law while entertaining, if not perhaps the spirit!), but I'm pretty much at the point where I look at the big container of the bean or lentil soup I've prepared for the week sitting in my fridge all ready for dinner with a decided lack of enthusiasm!

Now it's not that bean and/or lentil soup can't be tasty - toss in a few herbs and fresh veges from the garden and it generally is. And it is not that that is all I'm eating - I do a few other dishes for variety a day or two a week. But since I don't eat much meat normally, it isn't really much of a sacrifice for me to give up meat for Lent, so I thought a mainly soup regime, combined with fasting, was a good way of ratcheting up my observance (and somewhat over-optimistically, to lose weight!). Surprisingly perhaps, cutting out lunch, isn't really that hard, nor is eating less: those hunger pains can induce a virtuous glow! Lentils alas do not (and while maybe that aids the penitential feel of the thing, I'm not totally convinced that doing things you actively dislike is necessarily beneficial spiritually)...In an earlier era, however, these last two weeks marked an even stricter fast, so it is worth reminding ourselves that we have it pretty easy, and see what we can do to toughen it up a bit for the final stretch!

Prayer, spiritual reading and almsgiving

It is not just fasting that we need to make fresh resolutions on though, but also the other works appropriate to Lent.

I have to admit that while I'm very much enjoying my Lent book (Dom Augustine Baker's Holy Wisdom) I'm going to be working hard over the next two weeks to get it finished!

This period is also a bit of a chance for those who say some or all of the Office to savour it a little more. We all occasionally get stuck in the mode of just getting through it all (particularly those who are bound to say it), without necessarily making the most of its spiritual treasures. But the Passiontide and Holy Week Office has some wonderful things in it - so maybe consider actually singing, not just saying, - and then meditating on - hymns like Vexilla Regis and Pange lingua.

And those who don't say the Office might consider adding something by way of prayer (if you haven't already), such as some of the devotional Office of the Holy Cross

So, take the advice of Pope St Gregory the Great in today's readings for Matins, who says:

"..let each one ask himself if he perceives the words of God in the ear of his heart and understands whence they come. The Truth commands you to long for the heavenly homeland, to crush the desires of the flesh..."

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