From Celebrating the Seasons: Daily Readings for the Christian Year, compiled by Robert Atwell. Reprinted by permission of Morehouse Publishing, Harrisburg, Penn. Morehouse Publishing is a division of The Morehouse Group.

Week One Reading

From a sermon of Peter Chrysologus,
Bishop of Ravenna

There are three things by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting, and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy, and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.

Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, then hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God's ear to yourself.

When you eat, you see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy yourself. If you look for kindness, show kindness yourself. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

Let this be the pattern for all when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.

Therefore, let prayer, mercy, and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.

Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: "The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humble heart."

Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.

To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to the earth. However much you may cultivate you heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues: if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.

When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering: give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.
Week Two Reading

From "The Sayings
of the Desert Fathers"

A brother said to an old man, "I do not see any warfare in my heart." The old man said to him, "Then you are a building open on all four sides; whoever wishes to, goes in and out of you, but you do not notice it. But if you had a door and shut it and did not let the evil thoughts come in through it, then you would see them standing outside warring against you."

It was said of an old man that when his thoughts said to him, "Relax today, and tomorrow repent," he retorted, "No, I am going to repent today, and may the will of God be done tomorrow."

An old man said, "He who loses gold or silver can find more to replace it, but he who loses time cannot find more."

Another old man used to say, "If the inner man is not vigilant, it is not possible to guard the outer man."

An old man was asked, "How can I find God?" He said, "In fasting, in watching, in labours, in devotion, and above all, in discernment. I tell you, many have injured their bodies without discernment and have gone away from us having achieved nothing. Our mouths smell bad through fasting, we know the Scriptures by heart, we can recite all the psalms of David, but we have not that which God seeks: charity and humility."

Week Three Reading

From the "Conferences"
of John Cassian

To keep yourself continually mindful of the presence of God, you should set this formula before your eyes: "O God, come to my aid; O Lord, make haste to help me."

Our prayer for rescue in bad times and for protection against pride in good times should be founded on this verse of Scripture. The thought of this verse should be turning unceasingly in your heart. Never cease to recite it in whatever task or service or journey you find yourself. Think upon it as you sleep, as you eat, in the various occupations of your daily life. This heartfelt thought will prove to be a formula of salvation for you. Not only will it protect you against the assaults of the devil, but it will purify you from the stain of all earthly sins, and lead you on to the contemplation of the unseen and the heavenly, and to that burning urgency of prayer which is indescribable and which is experienced by very few. Let sleep close your eyes as you meditate on its words until as a result of good habit you find yourself repeating them in your sleep.

This verse should be the first thing to occur to you when you wake up. It should precede all your thoughts as you keep vigil. It should overwhelm you as you rise from your bed and as you kneel in prayer. Afterwards it should accompany you in all your work and duties during the day. It should be at your side at all times. Meditate on its meaning according to the precept of Moses, "as you sit at home or walk along your way," when you lie down at night and when you rise in the morning. Write it upon the threshold and gateway of your mouth. Place it on the walls of your house and in the inner sanctum of your heart. Let it form a continuous prayer, an endless refrain when you bow down in worship and when you rise up to do all the necessary things in life.