It’s just one cup of tea

The season of Lent is almost upon us, it begins tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. During Lent, we are asked to take on three traditional Christian disciplines: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Today I want to share with you a new insight into fasting which I gained recently.

I’ve generally always dreaded the idea of fasting during Lent. It always seemed to me like a test of endurance, and I never thought I had all that much endurance. Typically I would decide to, say, give up biscuits for the whole of Lent. It would last about ten days, I would have a biscuit and Lent would be over for me. And no matter what people would say about ‘beginning again’ it would never feel the same once failure had set in.

Now, I have learned a new approach to fasting, and it has become a much more appealing prospect.

St Therese of Lisieux teaches us that the “Little things done out of love are those that charm the Heart of Christ… On the contrary, the most brilliant deeds, when done without love, are but nothingness.” These words made me realise that the way I had been approaching the Lenten fast in the past was wrong. Lent is not a test of endurance. It is not even a test of discipline (even though we gain discipline as a by-product). Lent is a little test of LOVE. It is quality the Lord is interested in – not quantity.

I can describe this new approach to fasting – the little way of fasting – with an example. Here is a fast I recently undertook:

At breakfast time I didn’t have my normal cup of tea. I had a cup of hot water instead. It’s not much of a sacrifice is it? But this is the important part: fasting must always be accompanied by prayer. You may remember from the Gospels that on one occasion Jesus told the disciples that a particular evil spirit could only be driven out by prayer AND fasting. The two must be always occur together.

So while I was having my cup of water, I prayed.

I spoke to the Lord Jesus and told him that I was denying myself this 1 cup of tea as an act of love for him. I was doing this so that I might grow in my love for Him. I prayed for others. I asked Him to grant my intentions, but above all I asked him to help me grow in faith and love of Him.

It didn’t matter that it was only a small sacrifice. That’s not what matters to the Lord. What matters is that the sacrifice is accompanied by prayer and offered with a sincere and open loving heart. Fasting must always be accompanied by prayer, and must be done as an act of love for the Lord.

Perhaps you would prefer to go through Our Lady. While fasting, we can also pray through the intercession of Mary, our blessed Mother. I can tell her I am offering my fast as an act of love for her, and ask her to bring me closer to her son Jesus. We give Mary the title ‘mediatrix of all graces’ so we can of course pray through her intercession.

With this approach, fasting has become a wonderfully joyful act. Rather than a miserable endurance test, it becomes a joyful act of offering a sacrifice for the good of others, the good of the Church and above all the good of my own soul. I can have a smile on my face, knowing that the small sacrifice I have made has had a powerful effect in the spiritual life. Since I started this little way of fasting, I have prayed better and I feel I have drawn closer to Christ.

It’s just 1 cup of tea. A little thing, done with great love.

During Lent, I won’t totally deprive myself of other drinks, because I know I would find that too burdensome. My aim is to give up my first cup of tea each morning. On some days I may give up my second cup of tea too! – a definite sacrifice, but one I can realistically sustain.  And each time I am conscious of foregoing a drink I would like, I will pray. I will offer my sacrifice to the Lord with a joyful heart and a smile on my face.

I will offer my Lenten fasting for your intentions, for the people who read this blog. In particular I will pray that those of you who need to do so will make a good confession in preparation for Easter, because confession is so important.

And if any of you would like me to pray for a particular intention of yours, please contact me through this blog in the comments section below. I’d be happy to offer my fasting on a particular day for your personal intention.

I hope you will find these words about fasting helpful during the coming season of Lent.

Fr Aidan.


Loving my littleness

I have a flip-top collection of quotes of St. Thérèse in the room where I pray, and I have had it flipped to this quote for a few weeks now: “What pleases Him is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty.”  This morning as I read it, I was struck by the word “loving.”  She doesn’t say “accepting” or “living with” or “bearing”, but “loving”.   Loving?

And then it struck me: that is exactly where I meet Christ in my life–in my littleness and poverty.  He favors the poor.  He came to us as the poor Man. So, of course, I should love that place and love dwelling there with Him.

Thank you, St. Thérèse.  Pray for me that my love for my littleness and poverty will increase.

The justice of God

I used to be afraid of the justice of God, until I read this by Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.  Only she can come up with this kind of perspective.  What a great Doctor of the Church!

“How nice it is to think that God is just!  It means he takes our weakness into account and knows full well how frail we are by nature.”  (MsA 83v)

Throwing ourselves into His arms

I am thinking so much about this quote of St. Thérèse’s that I just have to repost this post from a couple of years ago–in case any of you missed it or if, like me, you need to be reminded of it:

This morning I was pondering my failings and starting to move to discouragement–as I am too often prone to do–when the Lord in His mercy brought to mind a section of a letter from St. Thérèse to Fr. Bellière in which she describes the ideal way for us to come to our heavenly Father when we realize our faults.  Reading it always brings me great hope–and I hope it does the same for you:

I would like to try to make you understand by means of a very simple comparison how much Jesus loves even imperfect souls who confide in Him:
I picture a father who has two children, mischievous and disobedient, and when he comes to punish them, he sees one of them who trembles and gets away from him in terror, having, however, in the bottom of his heart the feeling that he deserves to be punished; and his brother, on the contrary, throws himself into his father’s arms, saying that he is sorry for having caused him any trouble, that he loves him, and to prove it he will be good from now on, and if this child asked his father to punish him with a kiss, I do not believe that the heart of the happy father could resist the filial confidence of his child, whose sincerity and love he knows.  He realizes, however, that more than once his son will fall into the same faults, but he is prepared to pardon him always, if his son always takes him by the heart . . . . I say nothing to you about the first child, dear little Brother, you must know whether his father can love him as much and treat him with the same indulgence as the other . . .  (LT 258)

I pray that you will have the confidence to take God by His heart today and boldly ask Him to punish you with a kiss.

An even greater fullness of His love

These days my prayer is FULL of distractions.  I remember two things to help me.  One is advice from St. Francis de Sales.  He says that when we encounter distractions, the best thing to do is to gently bring our minds back to the Lord.  I think often our temptation when we find ourselves thinking of anything but the Lord, is to start yelling at ourselves and getting upset.  St. Francis, who always seemed to understand human nature so well, seems to consider being distracted a normal part of prayer.  Hence, his wise advice: gently bring your thoughts back to the Lord and keep praying.

The other thing that comes to mind is a little piece by St. Thérèse.  (Some of you may not find it helpful–if so, just skip it. 😉  Her lack of concern and attitude of confidence encourage me.   She compares herself to a little bird who has not strayed far from God, but does get distracted:

“[But You know] that very often the imperfect little creature, while remaining in its place (that is, under the Sun’s rays), allows itself to be somewhat distracted from its sole occupation.  It picks up a piece of grain on the right or on the left; it chases after a little worm; then coming upon a little pool of water, it wets its feathers still hardly formed.  It sees an attractive flower and its little mind is occupied with this flower.  In a word, being unable to soar like the eagles, the poor little bird is taken up with the trifles of earth.”

Ah, yes, the trifles of earth.  We all know what they are.

But for me the even more beautiful and encouraging part of this piece by St. Thérèse is what follows.  Her description of her confidence in the good Lord’s love encouraged me to have greater expectation:

“And yet after all of these misdeeds, instead of going and hiding away in a corner, to weep over its misery and to die of sorrow, the little bird turns toward its beloved Sun, presenting its wet wings to its beneficent rays.  It cries like a swallow and in its sweet song it recounts in detail all its infidelities, thinking in the boldness of its full trust that it will acquire in even greater fullness the love of Him who came to call not the just but sinners.”

What a beautiful thought: to expect even greater love from the Lord because of our weaknesses.   We, too, can in confidence recount in detail all of our infidelities and expect the same: to “acquire in even greater fullness the love of Him who came to call not the just but sinners.”

At the top of the stairs

On those days when I think, “This is never going to change in me”, the Holy Spirit often reminds me of these words of St. Thérèse:

“At the top of the stairs He is looking at your lovingly.  Soon conquered by your vain efforts, He will come down Himself, and taking you in His arms, will carry you forever into His kingdom where you will not leave Him again.  But if you stop lifting your little foot, He will leave you on earth for a long time.”