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Lenten Learners

Fr Terry writes:

The preface is the long part between Holy Holy Holy and the Eucharistic prayer itself. Today’s preface is special for the first Sunday in Lent. It says that ‘By abstaining 40 long days from earthly food, he [Jesus Christ] consecrated through his fast the pattern of our Lenten observance.’

My eye was caught that word abstained. It’s not a word that you hear often these days. To abstain means to deprive yourself of something that you could justifiably have. Something to which you could help yourself. It means that you ration yourself, or deny yourself something. It could be food, it could be alcohol or tobacco, it could be a simple pleasure like going to the cinema – yes, I have known people abstain from cinema on the grounds that Lent is a time for seriousness.

Goodness it all sounds a bit grim.

But look again and you start to see a deeper meaning.

First of all, each time you deny yourself something in Lent, it increases your self-control. All of us could do with self-control: not just our appetites, but our temper too. No blasting other drivers on the road who annoy you!

Second, self-control is part of finding a balance in our lives, between our interests and the best interests of others.

Third, fasting, or abstaining, is hard. But the very fact that we become aware of it makes a little space in our lives where we become more aware of God. That rumble in your tummy because you didn’t have a second helping is also a moment when you might think of Jesus in the desert, and ask him to give you strength.

Finally, we live in a time when we are bombarded with possibilities. The range of possible entertainments, for instance, is huge and increasingly available instantly. There are many demands on our time and attention also from work, from friendships, from shopping and the maintenance that goes into making a life. Abstaining cuts quietly across these. It invites us to be less driven. It encourages us to wait and to seek the will of God. In short, it makes it possible for to sift out what is important and to let go of what is not important.

Do I do all this? Do you? Well, the followers of Jesus were called disciples. It means, quite simply, learners. Let us try once more this Lent, and not be discouraged by our failures, because we are learners. Disciples who want to learn from the example of Christ himself.

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