What we can learn from Augustine’s mom about community

When Augustine’s mother Monica moved to Milan, she was concerned about fasting. The practice was universal in the church from the beginning, but it differed in places. In Monica’s hometown the church abstained on Saturdays, but not the church in Milan. What should she do? Augustine, then a catechumen, had no idea; so he put the question to his bishop, Ambrose. “[W]hatever church you come to, conform to its custom,” said Ambrose. Even as a bishop he said that he observed the same … [Read more...]

Preparing our hearts for the birth of Christ

Nativity Icon

Today marks the start of the Nativity Fast in the Orthodox Church. Like Western Advent, it is a time leading up to Christmas for the faithful prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. The period of fasting and preparation mirrors the fast before Easter, or Pascha as we usually call it. Also forty days, from the November 15 to December 25, it is like a little Lent. And not without reason. Christmas and Easter are intertwined. The feasts show the symmetry of God's providence, that the birth … [Read more...]

The battle for your heart

The Battle for Your Heart

There's a battle for your heart. The only question is whether you're going to join the fight. To understand the battleground and the nature of the fight, I think it's useful to take two things Jesus said about the kingdom and place them side by side. The first is from the seventeenth chapter of Luke's gospel. "[T]he kingdom of God is within you," said Jesus (v. 21). And the second is from the eleventh chapter of Matthew's. "[T]he kingdom of heaven suffers violence," he said, "and the violent … [Read more...]

Enriched by ritual

Enriched by ritual

I run into people from time to time who are very skeptical of religious ritual, things like liturgy or hourly prayers, practices like fasting or crossing yourself. If we discuss it, they usually tell me that they think it's deadening, that their spirituality is vital and free and that ritual would stifle things. I think I understand the resistance. Some come from families that just seemed to cycle through the motions at church. Some of those families were very serious and consistent, others … [Read more...]

What’s the point of Lent?

What's the point with Lent?

Lent is the time we’re supposed to forgo things, right? Television, alcohol, Facebook, dessert. We’ve all heard the commonly asked question, particularly at the start of the forty-day fasting period: “What are you giving up for Lent?” But why? What’s the point? For some, it’s personal. Fasting exercises a rarely used muscle in the human will—self denial—and giving up a self-indulgent activity can help build character and possibly bring us closer to God. For others, it’s … [Read more...]