O Lord, who for our sake didst fast forty days and forty nights: give us grace to use such abstinence, that, our flesh being subdued to the Spirit, we may ever obey thy godly motions in righteousness and true holiness, to thy honour and glory, who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for the First Sunday in Lent from Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘On the first Sunday in Lent we are reminded of our Lord’s own forty days’ fast, on which this season of Lent, having begun with the preparation of candidates for baptism, was modelled. With a view, no doubt, to the proper framing of our own Lent rule, we are invited to pray that we may observe the right kind of fasting, and that whatever we do may issue in true holiness to the glory of God.
Following [Jesus’] example we are to see to it that our Lent rule has a definite objective and that our fast is observed for the right purpose. It is not, of course, just for show: it is not to let people see how good and serious we are. Indeed, it is not at all necessary that other people should know what our private rule is. Enough if they see us following the public rule of the Church.
[T]he purpose of our fasting is that our flesh may be subdued to the spirit. St Paul seems to have thought of the flesh and the spirit as two highly ratified but still corporate entities, each striving for the mastery of the individual personality. The flesh was the seat of the lower emotions, selfishness and egotism; the spirit was the seat of the higher, the desire to serve both God and man.
Our fasting is not, as it sometimes suggested, intended to help us to achieve some kind of semi-ecstatic condition in which we appear to float off into the region of spirit. It is intended as a reminder of the difference between the two worlds of flesh and spirit and to give us a greater expertise in the latter.
The reason why we wish to bring the flesh under the control of the spirit is that we may with greater readiness obey Christ’s “godly motions in righteousness and true holiness”. The “motions” are the impulses, the incentives, the interior movements of the affections and will, started in us by God, when by his prevenient grace he directs our thoughts to some good end. There is always the question whether we shall follow his lead or not. Our prayer is that by our Lenten rule we may so quicken our power of spiritual perception that we shall not be held back by any apathy, slothfulness or rebellion of the flesh.
The end will be righteousness and true holiness... a real active intention to serve God and our fellows. It is that which will truly redound to the glory of Christ’.
from Reflections on the Collects, 1964
by William Wand KCVO, 1885-1977 (Bishop of London 1945-1955)
Fr Lee Kenyon