ON THE FAST OF LENT
Consider first, that a fast of forty days has been recommended by the law and the prophets, and sanctified by the example of Christ himself. Moses fasted forty days, (Exod. xxiv. 18,) whilst he conversed with God in the mountain, when he received the divine law. And again, when the people had sinned, he returned to the Lord, to the mountain, and fasted other forty days, Exod. xxxiv. 28. Elias fasted forty days in the wilderness, before he came to the mountain of God, where he was favoured with the vision of God, as far as man is capable of seeing him in this life, 3 Kings xix. 8. Christ our Lord, before he entered upon his mission of preaching his Gospel, retired into a wilderness and there employed forty days in prayer and fasting, St. Matt. iv. 2. How happy shall we be, if, by imitating according to our small ability, these great examples, we may also draw near to God, by this forty days’ fast of Lent! But then, in order to this, we must join, as they did, retirement and much prayer with our fasting.
Consider 2ndly, that the forty days fast of Lent amongst Christians, is primitive and apostolical: it began with Christianity itself, and with Christianity has been received by all people and nations which have received the faith and law of Christ. Embrace then, O my soul, this solemn penitential fast, this apostolical practice, this precious remnant of primitive discipline. But see it be with a penitential spirit. 'Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation,' 2 Cor. vi. 2. Take thou care not to receive so great a grace in vain. These forty days, if thou make good use of them, will be happy days to thee. 'O seek the Lord whilst he may be found, call upon him while he is near.' Isaias lv. 6
Consider 3rdly, that the great business of Lent is to do penance for our sins, to go daily with Magdalene to the feet of Christ, to wash them in spirit with penitential tears, to make our confession to him, and to lay down all our sins at his feet, begging that he would cancel them with his precious blood; to renounce them for ever, to detest them, and bewail them in his sight; to offer him our poor hearts with all our affections, in order to make him the best amends we can for our past disloyalties, by loving him with all our power for the time to come, that, as he said of Magdalene, St. Luke vii. 47, 'Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much,' so he may also say of us. In this spirit we should make a daily offering of our fasting, and of all other self-denials and penitential exercises of this time, to be united to the passion and death of the Son of God, and so to be accepted of, through him, in satisfaction for our sins. O do this, my soul, during these forty days, and thou shalt live.
Conclude to make good use of this holy time, in which mercy flows. O admire and adore that mercy which has endured thee so long, and which presses thee now, at least, to return to thy God. O take care lest, provoked by thy impenitence, he cut thee off in thy sins.