Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ash Wednesday, Year C, February 17, 2010

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Psalm 103:8-14; 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
How to do Lent, preached by Fr. Peter Courtney

“I have a complaint,” he said.
“What’s that,” I replied.
“I hate Lent!”
“So do I!” said I in an impulsive burst of brutal honesty.

It has given me pause. I have had to think about why I said that, if I even meant it.

You know, and so do I, that Lent is about prayer, fasting and self-denial. If we have tried to change anything about ourselves, even once, we know about our failures and perversions of prayer, fasting and self-denial.

Prayer turns into going to church every Sunday, well, most every Sunday, for 6 weeks instead of every other week as is our usual custom. The reason we went every other week was because, well, because.

Fasting means replacing one kind of food with another less-appealing kind of food. Then someone told us we confused substitution with fasting. Suddenly we realized that fasting means teetering on the precipice of hypoglycemia for half a day and then being crabby for the rest of it.

Self-denial sounds like a good idea until we are doing some aimless surfing on the net and one click buying is suddenly an option; or gambling; or one kind of escape or another. This is self-denial alright. We deny that the self we have is not the self God wills for us.

It is all so desperate and ultimately so un-prayerful, sooo self indulgent and self-serving – how could anyone could get it right.

Sadly this is true. We cannot get it right. Our principle denial is around our unwillingness to face our own fear of failure. Because we know it won’t work, we give up in advance. Because we set nonsense goals, because we design the very failure we live in terror of, we never get started.

So what to do?

Prayer: Take one line of scripture; one line of a hymn and make it your friend for 6 weeks. One year I gave a serenity retreat weekend just before Lent. I taught the men a six word prayer. “God will help me do it.”

This prayer is short. It was mostly memorable. The coolest part is that God answers prayers like this. God answers them by saying: “No problem, man.” Every day spend a very short time with this new friend. No more than a minute; maybe no more than 30 seconds. When you reduce the time it takes you increase the chances of being successful. Make this new friend a new habit of living in the Word.

Fasting: Once a day forgo a favorite anything and offer it to God in Thanksgiving. It is hard to be resentful or even pious when we are being grateful. Don’t give up a big thing. Just an itty-bitty one. Much easier than cosmic self-sacrifice.

Self-denial: Once a day offer pleasure to another person. This is self-indulgent at one level, but God does not expect us to be pure, only to go in that direction. Spiritual progress, not perfection.

This program will take about 90 seconds a day. If you fail at this, come to confession on Holy Saturday or even better, offer yourself to the clergy for spiritual direction. If 90 seconds a day for prayer, fasting and self-denial is too much, your whole apparatus of denial about your estrangement from your true self and from God is about to coming crashing down. The good news is that Lent is designed to help us reconstruct our self.

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