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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. We have arrived at Lent. What is this time for? It is a time of going back to basics and to re-train ourselves to fulfil our vocations to be Christians in the modern world. I believe that we are living in a time when it is so easy to drift along in life and to be carried by a tide of water that pushes us where it wants us to go, but not necessarily where we want to go. For Christians today, this means that instead of drifting, we consciously choose over and over again to say ‘Yes’ to God’s call to be disciples of his Son Jesus Christ and to be witnesses to a better life based on justice, truth, goodness and beauty.

Lent is a time of discipline and of sacrifice. Often, we might be tempted to think: ‘But maybe if it was less demanding then more would be attracted to the faith!’ Nonsense. The more we try to bypass the sacrifice needed for Lent, the more we drift and the less attractive Christianity becomes.

Yet, Lent is not about doom and gloom. Rather it is an opportunity to pause and be renewed in body and in spirit. In fact, the word ‘Lent’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word that means springtime. And in order for this springtime to dawn, the Spirit invites us into the desert with Jesus for forty days to know ourselves, know God and to become transformed into more loving, resilient and joyful people. Here I share a few thoughts on how prayer, fasting and almsgiving can serve as anchors to stabilise us renew us and lead us to this new springtime of hope.

First the practice of prayer. Thomas Merton was once asked what was the most important advice on prayer he could give. His response was ‘take the time’. If we want to pray better this Lent, then take the time. Prayer, as St Teresa of Avila describes it, is a conversation between friends. It is the time when God’s thirst for us meets our thirst for him and when we attune to the Spirit that moves within us. Recommitting ourselves to prayer this Lent means going back to basics and asking ourselves some important questions. Will I take the time to pray more and better this Lent? Will I go back to Mass and Confession? Can I visit my local Church once a week and spend time before the Lord present in the Eucharist? Can I commit to a daily Rosary? Perhaps we might do the Stations of the cross? Or prayerfully spending time with the daily readings. These are just some practical ways in which we can pray more and better this Lent.


The second practice of Lent is to fast. From the earliest of times, Christians have fasted at key moments. This is not because we are puritans or against the pleasures of the body. Rather because fasting disciplines us in a way that purposely allows our deepest hunger for God to arise. It is a type of training that unites all of our desires and needs under the single desire to be united with God who is love itself. The traditional day of fasting is Friday when we unite some sacrifice to that of Jesus’ passion. This could be to refrain from eating meat or giving up a meal. It could mean us fasting from a desire or attachment that has become too dominant in our lives. We know what these attachments are and what are our demons. Fasting from them restores our freedom, leaves us at peace and brings us closer to God.

The third practice of Lent is almsgiving or charity. We live now in close proximity to each other. The needs of humanity come pouring into our living rooms each night with the news. So many needs, so little we can do, it seems. But if we can do something, then let’s do it. If someone asks for help this Lent, give it. If a need presents itself before us, don’t turn away. Respond, even if it is only with a smile, our time, a letter, or a small donation. Do something, give something and give it with all the love we have. Do without something, so that someone can do with what we might give.

Friends, let not this Lent pass us by without making a difference. Now is the time of opportunity and repentance. Today we enter into the desert with Jesus for the next six weeks. With him we take the time to pray, to fast and to love like him. His love for us and plans for us are much bigger than we could possibly imagine. Repent and believe the Good News.


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