Fr Thomas Plant, Tokyo-based Anglican priest and comparative theologian

Month: March 2014

Lent 3: a guest post from Reader Richard Hackworth

Richard Hackworth writes:

This morning’s reading from John 4.5-42 is about the gift of the Holy Spiritand its power to transform livescreate disciples and to reconcile and transform communities. John’s gospel is so compact and full of metaphor and symbols that I think we need to think carefully about this passage to appreciate its fullmeaning. The passage is about a meeting between Jesus, a Jew, and a Samaritan women. There was an old enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans which Jesus used in his teaching more than once – the parable of the Good Samaritan is an obvious example. But why this enmity?

About 700 years before Christ the Assyrians conquered Israel. That story is toldin 2 KingsThe Assyrians had a policy of relocating the people of theirconquered nations to mix them up to supress resistance and revolt, and theyrelocated five alien groups into Samaria and forced them to coexist with theJews already there. Each of those five groups had their own traditions and godswhich then mixed with the religion of Israel, and the people intermarried.Unfortunately, the rest of the Jewish nation saw this as a shameful betrayal ofthe purity of Israel’s religion and of the Jewish tribeSo, they turned againstthe Samaritanscreating the Jewish – Samaritan schism which was still raw and entrenched and hurtful even in Jesus’ time, 700 years later.

In our reading Jesus and his disciples had been to Jerusalem for Passover and they were travelling north back to Galilee. They had walked about 35 miles from Jerusalem along a hot valley floor to the east of the Samarian Hills and Mt Gerizim. They come to the Samaritan town of Sychar. Samaritan territory was dangerous for JewsJesus and his disciples did not have to enter Sychar – they could have continued over the hills and skirted round the Samaritan towns likemost Jewish travellers did. But Jesus wanted to go inThe disciples went off to buy food – an uncomfortable errand in unfriendly territory. Perhaps they stayed as a group for their own protectionJesus continued alone to reach a well, known as Jacobs well. Jacob’s well is fed by a spring so the water is moving, not static like an artesian well for example. One might call it living water. The well can still be seen today.

It was about noon. It was hot and dusty and Jesus was thirsty. At the well Jesusmet a Samaritan woman and asked her for water. The woman wasn’t going to be spoken to like that by a Jew and she challenged Jesus. “Who are you, a Jew,to ask me, a Samaritan for a drink?” He does not rise to her provocation but answers “if you knew the gift I offer you would ask me for a drink and I would give you living water”. Jesus’ answer must have sounded elliptical, ambiguous, and odd. She assumes Jesus refers to the so called living water in the well, soshe speaks bluntly to this impertinent Jew. “You haven’t even got a bucket – how are you going to draw the living water from this well? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob?” Jesus comes straight back. “Anyone drinking from this well will be thirsty again. The water I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing to eternal life.” Jesus was right. He is greater than the ancestor Jacob because his teaching will replace the law and wisdom of Jacob which both Jews and Samaritans regard as God’s gifts, and through Jesus the Grace of God would become a spring gushing to eternal life within each of us who accepts itNow, the woman responds more calmly. “Give me this water so that I may never be thirsty or need to draw water again.”

Jesus then steers the conversation in a different direction. He says “call your husband and come back,” to which she says “I don’t have a husband.” Jesus’ reply is subtle. He says “You are right – you’ve had five husbands already and the one you now have is not really your husband either. This time the woman understands Jesus precisely. Jesus is not talking about husbands. He is talking about Gods. Remember the five groups of aliens the Assyrians forcibly relocated to Samaria 700 years before, each with their own gods? Those gods had been tried and found wanting. The woman’s current god is probably the god of Israel, YHWH. The Samaritans worshiped YHWH only imperfectly because they did not worship in Jerusalem where the Jews said they should. Moreover, in Jewish law women had no right to divorce; only men could divorce. If this woman had been abandoned by five husbands she would have been grievously misused and a social outcast. Jesus recognises that the Samaritans had been misused by five false gods and the orthodox Jews did regard the Samaritans as outcasts.

The woman understands Jesus’ precisely. She says to him “You are right. I see you are a prophet. Our ancestors worship on Mt Gerizim but you say we must worship in Jerusalem.” Jesus replies what really matters is that we worship God in spirit and truth in our hearts, not at any special place”. She looks at him and says “I know the Messiah is coming”, and finally Jesus tells her that he is the Messiah.

Then without hesitation she leaves her water-jar and hurries back to Sychar.Perhaps by abandoning her water-jar she means to leave behind her old waysallow her life to be directed by the Messiah whom she has just met. In the cityshe tells the people about Jesus and how her eyes have been opened about herself and about himJohn says that many Samaritans believed in Jesus simply because of the woman’s testimony, and they asked him to stay for two days.

There is a lot in this short passage. The Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Wellperhaps represents all the Samaritan people, let down by their false gods andstill only imperfectly committed to the one true god of Israel, YHWH. Thespring beneath Jacob’s Well represents the outdated purity laws and Jewishexclusivity which Jesus would replace. The woman finds deep refreshment in the Holy Spirit Jesus offers and accepts Jesus into her life. Through the power of her personal testimony she convinces other Samaritans that Jesus is the Messiah, before they meet Jesus for themselves in their own lives. In a sensethe Samaritans are purified and spiritually re-born – baptised if you like – by the living water of life Jesus offers, while on the other hand the Jews do not recognise him at all. And when the disciples return with food they are amazed to see who Jesus talks to and the impact he has had on the Samaritan woman.

I understand from Tom that in the early church this reading formed part of a series for preparing candidates for baptism at Easter. It is a deep passage about the power and potential of the Holy Spirit to change people and communities.You might recall (I hope!) that the “Living God’s Love” mission which Bishop Alan promotes throughout the St Albans Diocese has three main strands

“Going deeper into God”,

“Transforming Communities” and

“Making New Disciples”

I think it is striking that these themes are so strongly represented and tightly woven through this passage from John; Jesus takes the woman deeper into God, she becomes a disciple and the Samaritan community is transformed.

What does this passage from John’s Gospel ask about us – as people and as a community? You know the questions. Might there be false Gods in our liveswhich fail to live up to their promises and let us down? Is it possible we are so accustomed to them that we don’t even notice them anymore? Do we honour and worship God in our hearts and carry his love into the world, or do we leave him here in church? Do we follow the example of the Samaritan woman at the well and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us, and give space to discipleship within our daily lives? These are questions for each of us to consider in the privacy of our thoughts as we reflect on our faith through Lent as we anticipate Easter.

And what of Jesus drink of water? It appears he never did receive it from the woman, but God opens conversations by asking something from us first, and then returning it to us with his blessing. To ask for help is not a bad way tostart a relationship which might lead to discipleship. In a sense this is what happens at the Eucharist; we share with God the work of human hand and mind– bread and wine – and God returns his love for us to carry into the world in his name. And remember what Jesus says in Matthew – “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” We serve Christ every time we serve each other or someone in need. We can give Jesus that drink of water.

One final thought. The Samaritan town of Sychar almost certainly corresponds to the modern place called Nablus Askar. Today there is a Palestinian refugee camp at Nablus Askarwhere there live some 2000 families consisting of 32,000 people. Like the Jews and Samaritans, the Jews and the Palestinians are not on the best of terms. I pray that the living water of the Holy Spirit should inspire the leaders of Israel and Palestine, and wherever groups are at loggerheads, totransform their communities to find peace, just as the Samaritans responded to a Jew called Jesus who disregarded fear and mistrust to take his love to them.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Lent 3 – 6: Purification, illumination, perfection

You’d be forgiven for wondering exactly what the continuity is behind the next three Sundays’ Lenten Gospel readings. This week, Lent 3, we will hear about the Samaritan woman at the well; in Lent 4, were it not displaced by Mothering Sunday, we’d have the healing of the blind man (I will cover it in next week’s email to make up for its unfortunate omission); then, in Lent 5, we have the raising of Lazarus. So why, after we’ve heard the Lenten stories of the Temptations in the wilderness and the Transfiguration, this semingly random set of episodes from Jesus’ life?

The answer is that they are not random at all. They have not been chosen on the whim of the Church’s liturgists, but in fact comprise a very ancient sequence for the preparation of candidates for baptism, which traditionally happened at the first Mass of Easter, the Easter Vigil. If we think about what these readings relate to, we will see why they make such good reading for catechumens (the proper name for baptismal candidates) – and, indeed, for the rest of us.

This Sunday’s reading about the woman at the well is all about water, and Jesus promising the water of life not only to Jews, but also to gentiles like the Samaritan. Anyone, not just a Jew, can be purified of their sins by being baptised a Christian.

Next Sunday, we would hear about Jesus giving sight to the blind man. The Holy Spirit has been associated since very early times with the opening of the eyes of our hearts (e.g. Ephesians 1.18), so that we can see the glory of the Kingdom of God among us, around us and beyond us. Of course, the seal of the Holy Spirit is given in Confirmation.

Finally, we will hear about the raising of the dead, which Jesus offers to all who follow Him. Once we have been purified by water in Baptism and the eyes of our hears opened by the Holy Spirit Confirmation, we can receive the promise of the Resurrection in the Eucharist, the sacrament of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross through which He gives us all eternal life.

So, in these three readings, the budding Christian learns the threefold path of salvation: purification, illumination and ultimately perfection, as Christ dwells in us and we in Him, for ever. But this is not just for catechumens. We all renew our purification every time we confess our sins, refresh our vision every time we enter deeply into prayer, and taste the promise of perfection at every Eucharist. Lent is the time when we can renew our commitment to these everyday disciplines of Christian life.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Enjoy the silence

“The Lord God fashioned man of dust from the soil. Then he breathed into his nostrils a breath of life, and thus man became a living being.” Jesus’ journey in the wilderness takes us right back to the beginning of creation, to that passage of Genesis we heard in our first reading. The ancient Jews thought we were made from the dust of the earth, with God breathing life into us, and while that doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny nowadays, our modern ideas about the origins of existence are not so different. The Christian doctrine is that God created ex nihilo, from nothing. He didn’t have some stuff to hand from which He made us, like playdough: God is the name we give to that which is beyond all matter, all space and time. The closest we can come to describing His creative act is to say with St John, “in the beginning was the Word:” as Word, God breathed all being into existence from indescribable silence and nothingness. So, in a way, we do all come from the same “dust”: from the same nothingness as everything else in the universe. And to dust we shall return, as we were reminded on Ash Wednesday. Our bodies are not going to last forever, and nor is the universe. God made us from nothing, and to nothing we shall return.
Now Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into a dusty, empty place: the silent and primordial wilderness, an arid place, where there is no life, no bustle, no noise. Jesus, the pinnacle of existence, God Incarnate, is led back towards nothingness. Jesus, the Word of God, the Word spoken to bring all things into being, is led back towards silence, and there He starts His journey towards the silence of the grave.

There are different kinds of silence. For example, there’s that peaceful silence of a soundly sleeping child, for example. Or there’s the tense silence, the sort you can almost cut, between two people who’ve been arguing. There’s the silence of expectation, of the drawn in breath, as the conductor lifts the baton and you wait for the first note of the concert to sound.
The kind of silence we are guided towards in Lent is the sort that Jesus was guided into in the wilderness. But it’s a chameleon silence, a silence that can take the form of any of those kinds I just mentioned, and maybe others too. It can be peaceful, as we rest in full knowledge of God’s love for us and his forgiveness for our faults and sins. But at times it may be stressful and tense, as we wrestle with that Devil in our heads or in our hearts who tests us with difficult and unwanted questions about ourselves. It may even be the silence of waiting, uncertainty, doubt: is the Kingdom really coming, do I really believe in the promises of Easter that are to come? It might be any of these kinds of silence at some time or another, depending on where you are and how deeply you enter into it. But one thing that all these kinds of silence has in common is that they are honest.

There’s an ancient Christian story about three friends who wanted to give their lives to God’s service. One became a peacemaker, going between the leaders of the ruling tribes to turn them from war. The second became a healer. The third retreated into the desert to spend his life in prayer as a hermit.
Some years later, the peacemaker found that for all his efforts, there was still war in the land, and he became despondent, convinced that his efforts were futile. The healer, for all his work, could not cure all the sick who came to him, and was exhausted almost to the point of mental breakdown. So they went to see their hermit friend in his tent in the wilderness. They sat down inside, and he looked at them, saying nothing. And saying nothing. Just looking at them. Finally, the peacemaker broke: “why aren’t you talking to us? Can’t you see that we need your help?”
The hermit placed a bowl in front of them and pulled a waterskin from its hook. He poured the water into the bowl and asked them what they could see.
The water was still sloshing about, bubbling a little, and murky with dust. The friends, somewhat irritated by this little game, said that they could see nothing. The hermit remained silent.
After a minute or two of silence, the hermit invited his friends to look again. What could they see?
The water had settled. It was still and calm, and the dust had sunk to the bottom. And in the bowl, what the friends saw was themselves, reflected, their faces tired, drawn, angry, depressed.
Silence is a mirror which shows us as we really are. Silence shows us our sins. Silence is unrelentingly honest, which is why it can be hard to bear. But we need silence. The Word spoke from silence in creation, and if we nurture inner silence, that Word can speak in us.

Jesus had to enter the wilderness to confront the Devil, because that was his preparation for the empty silence of the tomb that awaited Him after the Crucifixion. Yet He goes into that emptiness, that dead space, and by the Holy Spirit breathes from it a fuller life than we can imagine. If we cannot understand the extent of the nothingness that creation came from, how much less can we understand the joyful fullness that awaits us at the end of time!
We will fully understand the fullness of Jesus’ Resurrection joy at Easter, we will fully feel the sheer power of His love which saves us and gives us eternal life even though our bodies return to dust, only if we too pass through the wilderness and look at ourselves in the mirror of silence. So I urge you, make some time for silence this Lent.

We now enter the mystery of Jesus’ sacrifice which is beyond words, but which He rather taught us in the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Ring with pride! A sermon for our ringers.

The only Muslim country I have ever visited is Turkey, and one of the great pleasures there is to hear, five times a day, the muezzin’s call to prayer: “Allahu akhbar, God is great!” How wonderful, I always think, if we had such a call to prayer ringing out over all our towns and villages. But of course, we do, thanks to you, and every bit as beautiful. If only more people would heed it.
Presumably some people in Turkey find the muezzin’s chant an annoyance. There is, after all, no escaping it. The music booms out from loudspeakers, dominating everywhere from the smallest village to the broadest city square. So much for “secular space.” Yet it continues, and I have no idea what would happen if anyone tried to complain.
People do complain over here, of course, even just at the Sunday peal. I worked at a church in London where one neighbour complained incessantly about the ringing of the bells waking her. The church had been there for a hundred and fifty years, which I’d wager was rather longer than she had, and the bells had always rung, but the lady in question did not particularly welcome that argument, for some reason. She’d paid good money for her personal space, and it shouldn’t be invaded by the God squad.
I suspect that, much like the sort of Anglican who coughs at incense, people who complain about bells are motivated more by religious opinion than genuine concern about pollution, whether by noise or smoke. Their objection is of the sort that is applied to prayers in town council meetings or crosses in crematoria. We don’t want your religious hocum obscuring our clear-sighted, open-minded, freethinking, neutral secular realm. If you want to practise your outmoded superstitions behind closed doors, well, that’s your business, but don’t come flaunting such silliness in the public square.
Which argument might be all well and good, I suppose, were it not baloney. There are two inconvenient facts to bear in mind. First, the historical fact that our national political and legal establishment, our very notion of statehood, our arts, music and literature, our philosophy, even our notion of human rights, are entirely derived from or a response to that outmoded superstition. Second, the political fact that Britain is a Christian monarchy, our liege being anointed and crowned by the Church both as Head of State and Governor of the Church. We never voted to become the “multicultural secular state” of Notting Hill political fantasy. And so, the public square is de facto and de iure a Christian square. To make it anything other requires not a complaint about bells, but a tick on the ballot form.
So please, my brothers and sisters, ring with pride. The call to faith is the call to our national destiny, which is joined by the Crown to the Church’s destiny, a place where no bell-despising secular utopia will lead us: the Kingdom of God, where peace and love shall reign eternal. Amen to that.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Pray the Office to keep a holy Lent

One of the greatest innovations of the Reformers of our church was to take the daily prayers that had been prayed only by monks and priests and put them into a simplified form in the common language so that everyone could join in. That is the point of the offices of Morning and Evening offices in the Book of Common Prayer: they are for everyone, in ‘common,’ to say every day.
Nowadays, we have a much more varied range of resources available to us for our daily prayer. The downside of this is that while there used to be just one book, there are now far more to choose from, and so most people do not bother with any of it. That is a shame, as the discipline of praying the psalms and reading another passage or two from Scripture each day can be a powerful way of keeping God close at hand.
So, if you haven’t already chosen a Lenten discipline, perhaps you could give this a try? Even just once a day is better than nothing a day! At the back of church, you will find some folded bits of A4 card with a simplified form of Morning and Evening prayer on it. That and a Bible is all you need – it gives you a four-weekly pattern of readings for morning and evening.
If you’re looking for something a little meatier, you could try the following, which gives you psalms, one reading from the Bible and one reading from the saints and broader Church tradition each day. It’s perfect if you’re only going to pray once a day:
Or if you’re not shy of Tudor language, you could even pick up a Book of Common Prayer and have a go at the offices from there!
Lastly, for the truly bold, there is the option of joining me at St Peter’s, Berkhamsted at 7.30 each morning (except Saturday, 9am) and/or 5pm each evening (except Monday, 5.45pm) for the more complicated but very full provision of the Breviary.
I must warn you, if you take up the Daily Office, that while sometimes bits of Scripture can really stand out and catch your attention, at other times it becomes routine and is not terribly exciting. That is part of the point: to sustain us in prayer regardless of our feelings about it, and to become a habit that forms the way we think and act through our slow absorption of God’s holy word. If it seems dry, we do well to remember that dried fruits may have a sweeter flavour to the taste of Our Lord!

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Women’s World Day of Prayer: Perpetua and Felicity

Whenever we assemble at the table of Our Lord, we feast together not just as a congregation, but with our contemporaries throughout the Church. And today, we feast with two particular guests of honour. Two of our contemporaries in the faith whose names you may have heard, but perhaps you do not know so well. We feast today with Perpetua and Felicity.
These two North African women were martyred in their home city of Carthage, in what is now Tunisia, on this day in AD 203. At this point, you might expect me to say, “and that’s all we know about them,” as is generally the case with martyrs of their vintage. But you’d be quite wrong, because exceptionally, we still have eye witness accounts of their imprisonment and martyrdom. I’m afraid they make quite harrowing reading, but nonetheless inspiring for that.
The fact that Perpetua and Felicity are women is not just a passing aside: it really does matter to their story. They were imprisoned for breaking the imperial law which banned Christianity on pain of death. They were cruelly treated. Deacons of the church were allowed to visit them and treat their wounds. But in this, they were not alone. Men suffered the same fate with them.
What makes Perpetua stand out is that she broke family ties. Her father came into prison to try to persuade her to recant so, the report says, that she would not sully the family name. Disobeying the man of the household, the paterfamilias, and putting your family into disrepute was at least as dangerous for a woman in North Africa then as it is now. And yet, Perpetua persevered in her faith until the end.
Felicity, on the other hand, was something that no man can be: she was pregnant. The Roman authorities exercised uncharacteristic humanity in that they would not execute a woman with child. So, they waited until two days after Felicity gave birth, to a daughter, who was adopted by a Christian woman. Then they threw her and Perpetua into arena for the entertainment of the upright local citizens. First they were scourged, then trampled by wild beasts. They gave each other the kiss of peace that the ancient church shared at the Eucharist, and survives in our modern liturgies in the handshake we will share today. At last, they were put to the sword.
Their feast was kept locally in Carthage ever thereafter, and in Rome from the fourth century at the latest. And this is the feast we keep today, not just in memory of them, but with them, along with all the women and men who have ever suffered for Christ and those suffer for him still today. That is why I call Perpetua and Felicity “contemporaries.” They are not just dead heroes whose memory we keep. The Christian Church is the Church of the living and the dead, spanning earth and heaven, and at the Eucharist the whole Church feasts together, drawn as one into the eternal sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

Sunday next before Lent

Matthew 6, and we’re back on the low hills outside Capernaum sitting at our Lord’s feet and listening to the Sermon on the so-called Mount: the topography is more Chiltern than cuilin, to be honest, but the idea is to hark back to Moses giving the Law from Mount Sinai. As I’ve said before, Matthew’s very Jewish account of the Sermon on the Mount, compared with Luke’s more gentile one, is very much about Jesus’ relationship to Moses and the Law. He said earlier on that he did not come to change a ‘jot or tittle,’ even the dot of an ‘i’ or the cross of a ‘t’ of that Law, but then, you’ll remember, he gave a whole series of startling interpretatations of particular laws. “You have heard it said,” he kept starting, in traditional Rabbinic fashion, but then He qualified every instance with the words “but I say to you…” And it’s the “I” that is so important here, so important and so controversial: in fact, it’s the “I” that would get Him crucified, because Jesus was inserting Himself into the Law. Jesus makes Himself the editor of God’s unchangeable, eternal Law, He puts Himself at the centre of it. And today’s Gospel shows just how radically deeply He embodies the Law, becomes the living Law, and how he wants us to embody it, too: without anxiety, and in our hearts.

But before Jesus starts telling us not to worry, there’s something he says that shocks, even grates, right at the beginning of the Gospel: “no one can be the slave of two masters.” I know he’s talking about God and money, and there’s an obvious sermon in that – so obvious that I’m not going to go into it – but isn’t it the word “slave” that sticks out? I haven’t yet seen the new film “Twelve Years a Slave,” but I’ve heard that it’s not exactly a family rom-com: more like an American Schindler’s List. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be owned, to be someone’s property that they can dispose of as they will, whether it’s in 19th century America or the ancient world Jesus lived in. But I’m sure we’re all imaginative enough to recognise the horror of it: OK, you might be a comfortable house slave, even in the ancient world a teacher – but the point is, you wouldn’t have the choice. You could be cleaning the stables one day and then sent down the mines, or into the gladiatorial ring the next, and you’d have no say in it at all. So what on earth can Jesus mean by advocating that we be slaves to God? And how can that fit in with the overall Bob Marley-esque theme of “don’t worry, be happy?”

I think there’s a big problem with using language of slavery in the Church today, yet we do: for example, when the modern baptismal liturgy (unlike the old Prayer Book rite) asks candidates whether they ‘submit’ to Christ. But to a lot of people, especially given the sexual scandals of recent years, the language of slaves and masters, of submission to authority, has connotations of serious and systematic abuse. Yet here it is, in the language of Scripture, in the words of Our Lord Himself. So, I would say, we can’t avoid it. But it needs serious qualification. And Jesus does gives it qualification. He juxtaposes the idea of slavery with a message of liberation: liberation from the anxieties that hold us back from the true freedom of living in God’s love.

Jesus tells us not to worry, not to get worked up or guilty about keeping the letter of the Law: we are not bound by the Jewish laws that tell us what we can and can’t eat, what we should or shouldn’t wear. We are not to be enslaved by them. And we are not to be enslaved by our possessions, our greed, the anxieties that money and property can bring if we don’t see them for what they are: a gift from God. Our material goods, like the laws we keep, are meant to be a tool, not a straitjacket, something we can use to the glory of God rather than something to enclose and stult us. Jesus wants us to see the world and the Law as gifts from God, not a prison, and certainly not a slavemaster. It’s the pagans, the infidels, who are enslaved by these things, and they’re the ones missing out.

The recipe that Jesus gives us for seeing the world and the Law as he wants us to, is this: set your hearts on the Kingdom first. And that is where the paradox of being slaves to God, which sounds so repugnant, makes sense. If we accept the kingdom of God, that is, the rule of God in our hearts – if we let God be our master – then we are truly free: because instead of being mastered by the false self, the self we think we are if we’re left too long too our own devices – the self that is gratified by material luxury and status and law-abiding pride – instead of that, we are mastered by our true self, and that is the image of God in which we are all made. True freedom is mastery by the true self: mastery of the heart by the image of the God who is Love.

We begin Lent this Wednesday, and I’d love to see us all go forward as a church together into the wilderness, supporting each other in our journey deeper into the profundity of God’s love. We can join in the discipline of Lent by setting ourselves some simple rule. But today’s Gospel makes it pretty clear that if it’s just some test of your resolve that’s going to cause you anxiety, it’s frankly not worth very much. Giving up the booze or chocolate is all well and good, but it needs to be done as a free gift to God, an offering made with love, not anxiety or guilt. It may be better to offer some daily or weekly act of prayer, perhaps committing to come more often to the Eucharist – the Lent course conveniently begins with Mass at 7.30 every Wednesday…

Whatever you do, it’s my duty to urge you to begin by coming to the Ash Wednesday Eucharist at 8pm, and make your promise to God there and then. It could be the start of a spiritual adventure which could truly enrich your relationship with God if you join in as fully as you can; if you empty yourself so that Jesus, the living Law of God’s love, can enter in and rule in your heart. For He is our true source, our true self, and our true goal.

The opinions represented herein are those of Thomas Plant only.

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