From the Director

On occasion, an unkind word can almost be forgiven because of its originality or the cleverness of its composition: "I never forget a face but in your case I'd be glad to make an exception" (Groucho Marx) could fall into the above category. However, with Lent upon us, we might choose to repent and refrain from the use of unkind words.

The biblical custom for repentance was to fast, wear sackcloth, sit in dust and ashes and put them onto one's head. In the early Church, Ash Wednesday marked the onset of a period of sober reflection, self-examination and spiritual redirection. At first only public penitents - those who were guilty of serious misdemeanors - received the ashes. They were made to appear barefooted at the Church and perform penances for their sins. Friends and family began to accompany them, perhaps in sympathy and in the knowledge that no person is free from sin; so gradually, the ashes were given to the whole congregation. The ashes are made by burning the left over palms from last year's Palm Sunday to give a sense of connectedness with those who have gone before us and shared the Christian tradition.

Pope Leo in the 6th Century gave this insight into the observation of Lent: "What a Christian should be doing at all times, be done now with greater care and devotion."

Similarly, Matthew in his Gospel suggests what it is that the "Christian should be doing": "Give alms... Pray to your Father... Fast without a gloomy face." [6. 1-18]

Alms giving and supporting the needs of others has always been a focus of Christian expression. The ‘needy’ encompass children, the old, the sick, the suffering no matter where they may live. To such people, or the organisations that assist them, we can give time, a share of our talents, material resources; whatever we give should be something of ourselves, something that costs us.

Prayer is much more than simply saying words, it is the quiet engagement of our inner-self. We should endeavour to close out the noise, the trivialities, the distractions that crave our attention. In the quietness of ourselves we can speak to God. He is a good listener, He knows our needs.

Fasting in today's society is somewhat regarded with ridicule. We are bombarded with messages to eat and drink and buy more and more. We have become obsessed with food, drink, clothes, amusements. Some reasonable fasting from food, drink and entertainment can give us freedom and help keep the ‘obsessions’ in their true perspective - as an assistance to life not the reason for it.

Alms giving, prayer and fasting are precious traditions associated with this time in the Church's Liturgical year. In my recent visits to our primary schools in the north and the north west it was heartening to see students being ‘exposed’ to these traditions of the Church and schools and teachers playing their part in supporting families in ‘handing on the Faith’ to those entrusted to their care.

 

j-mula

Yours in Hope

John Mula
Director of Catholic Education