Ash Wednesday Torkington Journal Entry

Author: David Torkington

In the early Church Lent grew out of the final forty days of the two year preparation  for   Baptism at Easter, that the first Catechumen’s were asked to undergo. Then it soon became a special time for all the faithful to renew their  baptismal vows by preparing once more for Easter, as they did as Catechumens. The essence of that preparation was in trying to live out more and more intensely the profound sacrificial spirituality, that Jesus himself first practised in his own life before introducing it to the early Church.

Compared with the spiritualities that we see on offer today, the God-given spirituality that Christ introduced into the early Church was so simple. No wonder anyone could easily understand it and live it, in union with Christ himself, and therefore in union with one another. Deprived of the good shepherds who once guided them, Catholic lay people today have chosen  their own spirituality from a massive supermarket of different spiritual goodies that are picked and mixed at will. Some choose a monastic religious order to which to affiliate themselves, another a mendicant religious order; others favour the more modern congregations founded after the rise of humanism. Some take a bit from all of them and then salt  and pepper  them with  favourite devotions, spiritual exercises and pious practices  they have collected over the years.

It is virtually impossible today to find two Catholics who share the same spirituality. What was once so simple has now become complex, with some Catholics choosing to design their own unique spiritual patchwork quilt. In the early Church everything was simpler as the first Christians discovered in their preparation for their   Baptism. When  they rose from the  baptismal water that was called ‘the womb of the Church’,  it was to be signed with the oil of  Chrism to show they had now been born again and into Christ. Now they would share in his calling, as the Prophet, the Priest and the King long since promised by the Prophets of old. They were not clothed in a complex patchwork quilt of different, divergent and dissimilar spiritual practices, but in a single  simple white garment, the same type of garment that Christ was wearing when he rose from the dead on the first Easter day.

This was to symbolise and  make it clear to the ‘neophyte’ that in future their  spirituality was  simple. It was to do but one thing,  to love God in, with, and through Christ their risen Lord with a pure and humble heart.  That is why Lent was and always will be above all else a time for practising the simple selfless unalloyed and unconditional love for God that Jesus himself practised daily from the moment he was placed in a wooden crib in Bethlehem  to the moment when he died for us on a wooden Cross on Calvary.

When the Neophytes were led in procession to the Eucharistic table with those who had been reborn again into Christ, they offered themselves to God as they would in future  each Sunday with the whole Christian community. Now they offered themselves, in, with, and through Christ to the God who created them, to be united with him to eternity. But that is not all, for they, like Christ before them were not just called for themselves, but for others. The  sacred food and drink enabled them to be strengthened and supported by Christ himself as they returned to do firstly in their own family, what they were called to do in the wider world.

Then gradually as their personal prayer life deepened, they were not only enabled to participate in  Christ’s own mystical loving, his contemplation of the Father, but to receive the mystical love of the Father in return that he himself  had continually received while  on earth.  Although his love reaches down into us like a single shaft of light, like light it contains within it all the infused virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit that we see in action in the life of Christ when he was on earth.

Sir Isaac Newton was the first to discover that sheathed invisibly within a single ray of light are all the colours of the rainbow, but when that ray of light strikes a prism then these colours can be seen in their individual beauty . In the same way, sheathed within a single ray of God’s love, are all the infused virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit. When they strike the human heart, they are made visible as they are disseminated into, and made manifest in all and everything  we do. In this way they  become the infused virtues that enables Christ to make his presence felt once more through us, in the world he has come to redeem. Then like St Paul we will be able to say ‘I live, no it is not I who live but Christ who lives in me’.

The important thing to notice is that all the infused virtues are only given through prayer, most particularly contemplative prayer. That is why St Thomas Aquinas called them the fruits of contemplation and called upon us all to contemplate and to share the fruits of contemplation with others. The love of God contains within it all the infused virtues, together with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit that were once perfectly embodied in the Christ whom we are now called to represent on earth. This is the very essence, the very meaning, the very raison d’etre of our calling as Christians.

Let us be clear that our true vocation on earth, which is firstly to seek personal renewal, and then to communicate it to others, is not  by trying to Christianise the stoicism that has seeped into many Catholic spiritualities after the rise of humanism. It is by trying to do  something that has been central to the very  essence of  all authentic Catholic Spirituality from the beginning.   And that in the words of the great Dominican theologian and Mystic,  St Thomas Aquinas,  is “To contemplate and then to share the fruits of contemplation with others”. This then in a nutshell is the essence of the God-given spirituality first practised by Christ before he introduced it to the early Church. Long may we return to it.

If you want to know how, please turn to my free twelve part series on prayer on – follow it during Lent to relearn how to pray again. You will be learning not from me, but from the example of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the profound sacrificial spirituality that he introduced to the early Church. Every Friday during Lent, I hope to  show in ever greater detail  the inner nature of this sublime spirituality.