St Hilda's Anglican Catholic Church Service Times

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Fr Matthew Kirby for further details.
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Thursday, 11 February 2016

The many factors of Lent.

And Jesus spake unto His disciples, saying, When ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.  But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;  that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall recompense thee. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:  20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through nor steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth or rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break in to steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.It may seem confusing as we have here the gospel for today with the instruction from Jesus not to disfigure our faces and yet we have ashes on our heads. We need to remember who Jesus was speaking to and about. (Matthew 6:16-22)
 
The Following is a transcript of an oral sermon presented by Fr Matthew to his Parish on Ash Wednesday 2016.

The Pharisee and other religious groups of that time had their own voluntary fasts. The Pharisees in particular would fast twice a week. Now, these were not fasts commanded by the law but they were voluntary fasts of devotion. There were fasting times amongst the people of Israel that were mandated in the scriptures but they were public fasts and they were common fasts (as lent is a common fast). So there would be no social cache showing you were fasting when the people of God were fasting corporately and indeed you have instruction for the people too wear sackcloth and ashes in the scriptures during those public fasts... But when people make a private fast, they make their own personal, devotional decisions about fasting quite apart from what the church has in its rhythm of the liturgical year then they are not to make a big deal of that.
 
That means if we make a decision during Lent to give something up, it is not something we should be trumpeting to the world. If somebody asks us there is nothing wrong with telling them but it is not something that is designed to be a matter of pride. It is just the contrary to that because Lent is about casting down the flesh, the world and the devil. Of cause the flesh refers to the enemy within. It is not just about what we normally call carnal sins but all sorts of other things as well.
 
What is Lent?
It is that time when we prepare for the joys of Easter. Where, like Christ, we go through the valley of the shadow of death before we reach the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. The prayer book in todays service (the penitential service before Mass designed specifically for Ash Wednesday) says we are to observe Lent by self examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, self denial and by reading and meditation upon Gods holy word. Those are the traditional ways to observe Lent. We examine ourselves even more soberly and seriously than we normally would and think about the past year, what we have done wrong and ways we can improve.
 
It is a time of self examination and repentance.
Sometimes people use that time to make their auricular confession in the sacrament of pennants but whether they do that or not Lent is meant to be a time when we examine ourselves and confess before God our sins and think particularly about the areas in our lives (long term, not just short term) where we're perhaps failing to live up to his word.
 
It is also specifically a time of prayer and fasting.
So people are expected not only to abstain from certain foods or to eat less over that time but also to combine that with prayer. There's not much point observing the fast if means no change at all in our prayer life, if we don't offer up any extra prayer or we aren't praying at that time. Even if it's not extra prayer, fasting is meant to empower our prayers. It is common for people to say "and what are you giving up for Lent?" as it is common for people to give something up for Lent, quite apart from food.
 
Prayer, fasting and self denial. Why do we do this?
In doing this we are able to focus the mind more on things of the spirit, as things of the flesh are to fall into the background more. Not because there is something wrong with eating, we have to eat, eating is a good thing. By doing less of these things which in itself is good we are able to focus more on the things that are best.
 
There is then reading and meditation on Gods holy word.
This is where we spend perhaps a little more time than we are accustomed to reading the scriptures and meditation upon them. Now, some people already have a system where they meditate so many times a week or a month, they decide to do it by their own rule of life. In a way this is more directed at those who have no such rule. those who probably need to  get into the habit of reading the scriptures and praying through them.
 
Is there More to It?
There is one thing in that particular sentence (which is a very good summary of what we do in Lent) that is missing from that particular part of the service and that is the mention of alms giving, another part of the tradition of Lent is for us to give a little more generously to the poor and this is brought out in the reading for evening prayer for Ash Wednesday. Which is from Isaiah 58.
 
I will read a little from Isaiah 58
So that we get a flavour of that aspect of the Lenten discipline. The chapter heading in this bible is "True And False - Fasting And Worship". If we read through the whole thing we find that God is pretty angry with many people throughout this point because their fasts aren't the kind of fasts that He likes. He says "Behold you fast only to quarrel, to fight, to hit with wicked fist. Fasting like yours will not make your voice heard on high" and then He talks about what people's fast ISN'T meant to be like, then saying what the fast IS meant to be like. " Is this not the fast that I choose to loose the bonds of wickedness to undo the thongs and the yoke and to let the oppressed go free. Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house, when you see the naked to cover him and not hide yourself from your own flesh" (that is from your own family). So, although it seems strange that He is saying "This is the fast  that I choose" and then nothing about food. It is not saying that Lent has nothing to do with fasting from food, because we know when Jesus was asked about his disciples and how they were not fasting as often as the Pharisees, He said that when they fast this is what they will do. Yes, we fast from food, but there is not much point fasting, or even fasting and praying when reading the scriptures if it doesn't lead us to more compassion toward others and if we don't make special effort at generosity. Not only to the poor but for our own family.
 
Lent has many dimensions, many factors to it.
So I would encourage us to look at that part of the prayer book and think about how we can observe many ways (even if they are not huge ways) of prayer, fasting, self denial, reading of the scriptures generosity, compassion, self examination and repentance as we move towards the great solemnity of Holy Week, Easter.

May God prepare our paths and grant us the grace
to follow through with our good intension
as we begin Lent.
 
Feel free to join us each Sunday morning during Lent
for Anglican Catholic Prayer, Worship, Holy Communion, Mass 
at st Marys school chapel in Victoria street Maitland NSW Australia

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