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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Asceticism, Spiritual Exercises and Joy

Fourteen Rules for those Engaged in the Lenten Observance during this Pandemic


1. Open wide the doors of the heart to Christ: The Word is made flesh and dwells among us, and our faith in Him demands that we not only assent with our mind to believe in what He has revealed, but our faith compels us to live in union with Him in a manner worthy of our calling. This call takes up our whole existence, including our bodies and our chosen actions in the space and time. If our bodily actions are not filled with His life, our faith is dead.


2. Live a transformed life: Offering our bodies as a living sacrifice and spiritual worship must include periods of fasting and abstinence not only from food, drink and other bodily pleasures, but also from seeking praise, esteem, acknowledgement, and other spiritual escapes as well. This is because bodily discipline without spiritual discipline is too superficial to be of any value.


3. Love, love love: Rending our hearts and not our garments must include an examination of not only this action or that, but also our whole manner of existence before the banner of love, that is the Cross of Christ.


4. Pray without ceasing: In prayer, never fear to let the tears flow until gratitude springs for what He has done for us. Then, any act of love we offer will be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, no matter how secret it seems be. In fact, the more secret the spiritual sacrifice, the more powerful the Holy Spirit works.


5. Be vigilant: Only in so far as this thought or that desire conforms to the thoughts and desires of Christ Crucified should we sanction it and allow it to bear fruit in action. To conform our hearts and minds to His, ponder over His thoughts and desires, treasuring them in a great silence of heart, allowing these to captivate, to fascinate, to astonish. Jesus's Heart is filled with the most wonderful thoughts and desires for each one of us and all those whom He entrusts to us. He wants to share these with us.


6. Be generous distributors of God's grace: In addition to fasting, abstinence and prayer, one must also be generous to those in need. Be careful to examine what motivates even the effort to be generous. Clarity comes under the shadow of the Cross - for almsgiving is of little value if we give only to relieve our conscience but remain indifferent to the beggar. It is under the Cross that we learn to embrace the needy, that we discover just how needy we are ourselves. We must seek out these ambassadors who the humiliated Christ has sent to us. We must pay them tribute until our hostility to the Lord and His Kingdom is surrendered.


7. Renounce your very self: Self-occupation is the great obstacle to love and the Cross opens the pathway out of self-occupation. Any action, no matter how noble in appearance, that springs from thoughts, desires and imaginings with no connection to the Cross are not worthy of a disciple of Christ. A disciple is renounces to make room for love—the Cross provides the wisdom and strength for this love.


8. Pick up your Cross: All actions, no matter how poorly they are esteemed by others, that spring from thoughts, desires and imaginings that flow from our devotion to our Crucified God give Him great delight. Picking up always in the form of a sacrifice, an obedient offering, something for the sake of love, difficult to bear, painful to let go, something that only love can do. The more love with which we pick up and embrace the Cross that He asks of us, the greater the delight of His Heart.


9. Do not conform yourself to this age: During this time of pandemic and political conflict, the love revealed by the Risen Lord requires questioning all the judgments in our hearts, especially those influenced by our culture and the social mores of our time. We do not live by political ideologies or social agendas, but by faith—so guard against anything that competes with faith in the Risen Lord. This includes careful examination of our desire for comfort, convenience, and even our own instinct for self-preservation.


10. Live a transformed Life: If courage gives us sovereignty over fear, it does not remove the feeling. Thus, we also must prayerfully confront fears in light of our responsibility to worship the Father through our faith in the Great High Priest. This responsibility includes the readiness to put one's life and reputation on the line for those entrusted to our care, especially the most vulnerable and the most despised, for God has chosen to manifest Himself in them most of all.


11. Renew your mind: Throughout all of these 40 Days, be faithful to those things that you have promised to the Lord in prayer—not only those things that you have renounced for His sake, but also those acts of kindness and patience that you have bound yourself to because of what He has done for you. Such faithfulness makes space in your heart to receive blessings far beyond anything that one can ask or imagine—so immense His exceeding love for us.


12. Let the joy of the Lord be your strength: On Sundays, if what you have sacrificed increases the joy of this wonderful day, then sacrifice it. If it does not, then do not. The joy of the Lord must be your strength.


13. Adore the Lord: The pathway to spiritual maturity is not afraid to seek those deeper silences poured out into the world through the Cross of Christ. The more mature the prayer, the more it becomes simple before God. Only the most simple and humble prayer is fully able to be still enough to hear the mysterious canticles that flow from the Word of the Father and make all things new.


14. Be confident: This pathway to Golgotha is never tread alone. Armies of angels and saints march alongside of you. No matter the trial or the challenge, Christ has already won the victory and He shares with us the joy of the Father. He does so in every sorrow—for in his beauty a soul is overwhelmed by every noble sorrow and every joy all at once until it cannot contain itself. Once alive with such jubilation, no power on earth, or below, or above can ever separate us from Him.


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