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.


“How very much we do not want to be poor”

Well worth pondering from Heather King:

My friend Tensie runs a free clinic for farm workers on the central coast of California.  She once told me of a young Hispanic woman named Claudia who was dying of cancer; whose heart was broken at the thought of leaving her two-year-old daughter; whose patient endurance, love, and lack of self-pity were exceptional.

“In our culture,” Tensie observed, “we view suffering as an insult, a humiliation.  The people I see at the clinic suffer terribly, but they don’t view it as an insult.  They see it as inevitable, as natural almost.  In a way, to follow Christ is to examine our relationship to suffering.”

Ash Wednesday marks the season in which we especially ponder our relationship to suffering.  Praying, fasting, and giving alms are not arcane holdovers from a time when people more inured to suffering than we are found such practices easy.  Fasting has always been hard.  Fasting is a reflection of the fact that the more desperate we are, the more open we are to change.   Fasting demands that the more keenly aware we are of our empty hands and our empty stomachs, the more likely we are to realize we need help.  Fasting helps us to remember that we are all poor, and how very much we do not want to be poor.

I’ll do anything to keep from feeling “poor” myself, and as Lent approached last year, I thought: Those people who say fasting is just an ego-based endurance test are right.  This year I’m going to fast in a way that effects some real good.  I’m going to fast from criticizing people . . .

Ash Wednesday dawned, I waited to be transformed, and within an hour I was mentally nitpicking, criticizing, and judging any number of people.  A few days later I badmouthed someone out loud, the day after that I nakedly passed on a bit of juicy gossip, and from there the whole enterprise rapidly went downhill.  Nice try, but unh-unh.  Prayer without fasting is a gesture.  Mercy without fasting is a gesture.  Fasting is not a gesture.  Fasting is a consent to be consumed.

Burning-BushTo be consume by the fire of our own sin leaves cold, dead ashes.  To be consumed by the fire of Christ’s love is to have our delusions about ourselves consumed and to have our true selves left intact, like the burning-bush love that Claudia, who died at twenty-four, left behind for her daughter.

All through Lent a slow, underground fire burns, to burst into flame with the glory of the Resurrection on Easter morning.  Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  And oh, what hangs in the balance during that interval between the day of our births and the day of our deaths, when for a cosmic instant we, too–beggars all–are called to burst into flame.

(Reprinted with permission)