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.

Week Four Reading

From a Sermon of Augustine

Let us sing "Alleluia" here and now in this life, even though we are oppressed by various worries, so that we may sing it one day in the world to come when we are set free from all anxiety. Why is it that we worry so much in this life? I suppose it is hardly surprising that we worry when we read in the Scriptures: "Are not the days of our life full of trouble?" Are you surprised that I am worried when I hear the words: "Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation"? Are you surprised that I am worried when in the face of so many temptations and troubles the Lord's Prayer orders us to pray: "Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtor"?

Every day we pray and every day we sin. Do you think that I can be free from anxiety when every day I need to seek pardon for my sins and help in the face of difficulties? When I have said for my past sins: "Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors," I immediately go on to add, because of the difficulties that lie ahead: "Lead us not into temptation." How can the congregation be in security when it cries out with me: "Deliver us from evil"? And yet, my brothers and sisters, in this evil plight of ours we must nevertheless sing "Alleluia" to the good God who delivers us from evil.

In the middle of the dangers and trials that beset us we and all people must sing "Alleluia," for as Paul says, "God is faithful and God will not let you be tempted beyond your strength." So then, we must sing "Alleluia." We may be sinners, but God is faithful. And note, Scripture does not say, "God will not let you be tempted," but rather "God will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation God will also provide a means of escape that you may be able to endure it." If you enter temptation God will also provide a means of escape so that you do not perish. Just as a potter forms a vase, so you are to be molded by preaching; you are to be fired in the kiln of tribulation. Thus when you enter temptation, think of a means of escape; for God is faithful. As it says in one of the psalms: "The Lord will preserve your coming in and your going out."

Week Five Reading

From a Sermon of Augustine

"If any would come after me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me." The Lord's command seems hard and difficult. And yet it is not hard and difficult given that it is the command of him who helps us in carrying out what he commands.

What was spoken to him in the voice of the psalmist is true: "Because of your command I have followed the hard road." But true, also, are Christ's own words: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Or to put it another way, whatever is hard in the precept is made easy by love.

But what is the meaning of the words: "take up the cross"? It means we should bear whatever is troublesome: on that understanding alone can a person follow Christ. For when we begin to follow Christ in his character and teaching, we will encounter many who will contradict us, many who will try to forbid us, many who will seek actively to dissuade us from following Christ--this can even occur among those who are companions of Christ. Remember, the people who tried to prevent the blind man from calling out to Jesus were the same people who walked at Christ's side. Whether, therefore, it is a matter of threats or flattery or prohibitions, if you wish to follow Christ, turn to the cross, endure, bear up, and refuse to give in.

It is in this world which is holy, good, reconciled, saved--or rather in the process of being saved, at the moment only saved in hope, as Scripture says: "in this hope were we saved"--in this world in which the Church tries to follow Christ in totality, Jesus calls out to people everywhere: "If any would come after me, let them deny themselves."

Week Six Reading

From "Peter Abelard"
By Helen Waddell

From somewhere near them in the words a cry rose, a thin cry, of such intolerable anguish that Abelard turned dizzy on his feet, and caught at the wall of the hut. "It's a child's voice," he said.

Thibault had gone outside. The cry came again. "A rabbit," said Thibault. He listened. "It'll be in a trap. Hugh told me he was putting them down."

"O God," Abelard muttered. "Let it die quickly."

But the cry came yet again. He plunged through a thicket of hornbeam. "Watch out," said Thibault, thrusting past him. "The trap might take the hand off you."

The rabbit stopped shrieking when they stooped over it, either from exhaustion, or in some last extremity of fear. Thibault held the teeth of the trap apart, and Abelard gathered up the little creature in his hands. It lay for a moment breathing quickly, then in some blind recognition of the kindness that had met it at the last, the small head thrust and nestled against his arm, and it died.

It was that last confiding thrust that broke Abelard's heart. He looked down at the little draggled body, his mouth shaking. "Thibault," he said, "do you think there is a God at all? Whatever has come to me, I earned it. But what did this one do?"

Thibault nodded.

"I know," he said. "Only, I think God is in it too."

Abelard looked up sharply.

"In it? Do you mean that it makes him suffer, the way it does us?"

Again Thibault nodded.

"Then why doesn't he stop it?"

"I don't know," said Thibault. "Unless it's like the prodigal son. I suppose the father could have kept him at home against his will. But what would have been the use? All this," he stroked the limp body, "is because of us. But all the time God suffers. More than we do."

Abelard looked at him, perplexed. "Thibault, do you mean Calvary?"

Thibault shook his head. "That was only a piece of it--the piece that we saw--in time. Like that." He pointed to a fallen tree beside them, sawn through the middle. "That dark ring there, it goes up and down the whole length of the tree. But you only see it where it is cut across. That is what Christ's life was; the bit of God that we saw. And we think God is like that, because Christ was like that, kind, and forgiving sins and healing people. We think God is like that forever, because it happened once, with Christ. But not the pain. Not the agony at the last. We think that stopped."

Abelard looked at him, the blunt nose and the wide mouth, the honest troubled eyes. He could have knelt before him.

"Then, Thibault," he said slowly, "you think that all this," he looked down at the little quiet body in his arms, "all the pain of the world, was Christ's cross?"

"God's cross," said Thibault. "And it goes on."
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