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For those of you who have been following this series of Lenten readings and prayers, today’s prayer will look familiar. It was once again a mild surprise to me as I read and pondered it. This is because it’s the same as one of the prayers appointed for yesterday:

Look down favorably, we beseech Thee, O Lord, upon the devotion of Thy people: that they whose bodies are mortified by abstinence, may by the fruit of Thy grace, be refreshed in mind; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost: ever one God, world wihtout end. Amen.

Yesterday’s comments also apply to this prayer; I will only add that one of the benefits of fasting (partial voluntary abstaining from some of your daily food intake, if you’re able to handle it physically and in conscience) is highlighted here, that of refreshing the mind. Americans have grown so used to overindulgence in food and drink that we hardly know any other way to live, it seems at times. (When Joe Strummer, frontman for the Clash, was asked by an American reporter if he had any advice for Americans, his answer was terse: “Eat less.”) It doesn’t hurt to eat a little less and you’d be amazed at how beneficial it is. The goal, of course, is clearer thinking that can then be applied to the Word and prayer.

The Gospel for today is Matthew 15:21-28, the account of the Syro-Phoenecian woman’s pleading to Jesus. Once again I received a mild surprise here, because this is in fact the Gospel for this coming Sunday, the Second Sunday in Lent, or Reminiscere, as it’s been known in the past. We will have much more to say about this in the future (you can expect an entire sermon on it in this space on Sunday evening or Monday), but for now it suits our purposes to note that Jesus commends the woman for her faith. Faith is the key, as always. Without that we have nothing of lasting value from God.

The Epistle appointed for today is Ezekiel 18:1-9, where God the Lord declares that each dies for his own sins, each is judged by his own actions, whether good or bad, and God is just and holy as He judges. Ezekiel enumerates the various actions that constitute good or bad, in part based on Old Testament law. This emphasizes that faith must be lived; it must display fruits of faith or it is no real faith at all. Once again we see that the work God requires is first of all to believe in the One He has sent, His only Son, Christ our Lord; then to serve our neighbor with acts of love and to help those who need it. Whatever you do for one of the least of these, you do for Me, their Lord promises. Whoever gives to the poor lends to the Lord, as Proverbs says. We should each take this to heart and do what we can, where we can, to help — not stopping to consider whether or not the poor are deserving or worthy, because if God had waited until we were deserving or worthy to call us to faith we’d still be waiting, wouldn’t we?

Thanks for reading. Tomorrow is another Ember Day, one of the set of three days that occurs three times per year. They fall on a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday (not entirely sure why) and tomorrow’s readings and prayers promise to be rich and fruitful for our devotion and piety. Until then, God bless.

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