Institute of Technology, Dundalk, Co Louth in the Archdiocese of Armagh
Lent is the interplay of prayer and fasting and alms giving. They are not ends in themselves but means to an end. The goal is to draw closer to God, God who is love, and to somehow radiate that love to those around us – Cardinal Brady
Yesterday President Obama delivered an important speech on the State of the Union. It was heard attentively and studied carefully by many people.
Today Lent begins. It is an invitation to us to listen attentively and study carefully another type of union, our union with God, with our neighbours and with ourselves. That invitation is also heeded by many people.
The three great exercises of Lent: prayer, fasting and alms giving/acts of charity, focus on that union. Prayer lifts our hearts and minds to God. Fasting focuses attention on ourselves and our appetites and on our self-control. Alms giving/charity turns our attention to our neighbours. It aims at setting free the poor from the chains of oppression and sharing bread with the hungry. It invites us to clothe the naked, house the homeless and help the needy ones of our own family, after the words of the prophet Isaiah. But it must all come from the love in our hearts.
Today we receive ashes on our foreheads. It is a simple but profound sign of our desire to do penance, seek repentance and stir up contrition in our hearts for our sins.
Ashes are a sign of the dust of the earth to which we must return at death but from which we all hope to rise to glory on the last day.
People, often make resolutions at the beginning of Lent, very often these are decisions to give up something, alcohol, chocolate, even television. Whilst these are worthy sacrifices, they risk being too narrow. Lent is also a time for something positive. Why don’t we consider, for example, reading a piece of scripture; to pray more; perhaps join in parish life; commit ourselves to get to know more about the history of salvation; to resolve to think of other before we speak.
The heart of salvation is the fact that Christ entered into the glory of Resurrection through His suffering, death and burial. By making the Stations of the Cross one moves from station to station meditating on what Christ suffered for love of us, an excellent way of prayer for Lent.
Lent is the interplay of prayer and fasting and alms giving. They are not ends in themselves but means to an end. The goal is to draw closer to God, God who is love, and to somehow radiate that love to those around us.
Lord I want to enter Lent with a generous heart. With your help I will try to make time and space for prayer. By your grace, I will deny myself and I will give generously.
• Cardinal Seán Brady is Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland
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