Archbishop Hart’s Lenten messages are always clear and to the point. He regularly emphasises the three disciplines – prayer, fasting and acts of charity – from the Sermon on the Mount which we read on Ash Wednesday. This year’s message is no exception, but I have been particularly struck at the simple and practical guidance he gives for observing our Lenten disciplines.
Prayer is listening and speaking to God. I recommend:
- silence in our churches is essential to prayer as a haven for reflection;
- that we keep our churches as places of prayer for converse with God;
- that we try to participate in the great prayer of the Mass very regularly during Lent, even daily;
- personal prayer, whether in Eucharistic adoration, reading and reflection on Scripture, or prayer with the family, will help us keep the spirit of this holy season.
Similarly, in silence and fasting we train our body and spirit. I recommend:
- that we limit the amount of food we eat and drink to make our mind and heart more focussed on God and others;
- acts of self-denial;
- contribution to Project Compassion;
- spending time with the sick or elderly
I like the way he links the disciplines to silence. The Parish Priest of St Phillip’s in Blackburn North concentrated on this topic in a recent bulletin, and Pope Benedict has also been reflecting on the need for silence in his message for World Communications Day. Spending time in prayer in the church both before and after mass is something quite unique to the Catholic tradition. Protestants file out in order during the organ postlude after the recessional hymn, to shake hands with the pastor and get to the coffee. Only Catholics linger, recognising that the Church building is a place of personal, private prayer as well as public liturgy.
You may not have read the book of the prophet Habbakuk lately, so let me remind you: Habbakuk 2:20 reads: “The LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him”. Those words were often to found inscribed above the sanctuary in Lutheran Churches in Australia – a rule more often observed in the breach, actually. In the Catholic Church we believe that “the Lord” really is “in his holy temple” – present in the reserved sacrament in the tabernacle. Hence the verse is even more pertinent to our places of worship.
Archbishop Hart seems to be indicating that our works of charity and the true meaning of our fasting will flow from the acts of prayer that we conduct in the silence of the presence of the Lord (note his reference to prayer before the blessed Sacrament). If we can all make his suggestions a part of our Lenten disciplines, I think that we will be able to truly observe a “good Lent”.