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Behold, Now is the Acceptable Time
A sermon by St Aelred of Rievaulx
…These forty days are called an acceptable time and named a day of salvation, because during these days the Lord cleanses and sanctifies his church through fasting. That is why the Lenten fast was established by the holy fathers, so that whatever is lacking in us during the year may be purified and made clean for the remaining times, generally by fasting in this holy observance…
Moses fasted for forty days and nights so that he would merit to receive the law. And through fasting he merited to have an audience before God and to see God face to face. So let anyone who desires to approach the Lord love fasting… Although we do not presume to investigate secret and profound mysteries of divinity, let us nonetheless gain acquaintance with God as much as we can. To do so we must still prepare and train ourselves; that way we might contemplate God here as through a mirror and obscurely, and in the future we might see him face to face…
That forgiveness of sins is given generously through fasting, we see manifestly among the Ninevite penitents who took refuge in repentance and reconciled themselves to God through fasting… when the Lord had threatened them, through the prophet, with death and overthrow of the city. In fact, the wise king also learned to avoid the danger; having laid aside royal finery and sitting in ashes, he exhausted his flesh with fasting, ordering not only human beings but even beasts to fast and to cry out to God through fasting with courage. Thus they evaded the overturn of the Ninevite city and peril of death…
Even Christ, King and Lord of prophets, who founded and sanctified fasting, before he was tempted by the devil fasted forty days and nights, to teach that the adversary is to be overcome through fasting. The Lord let an example for us, so if we want a full victory over the devil, the world and the flesh, then let us take refuge in the weapons of fasting, by which the devil is slaughtered, the world is conquered, and every attachment of the flesh is expelled.
…Finally we must offer to God repentance in all of our sacrifices, always repenting that we either overlooked the good or continued in evil… Because therefore the measure of repentance must be weighted according to the measure of sin, it is necessary to produce fruit <worthy of> repentance. If your suffering in correction is less than was your enjoyment in the fault, then the fruit of your repentance is not worthy.
…Still, so that a sinning conscience might be consoled, the method and measure of exterior repentance have been set; as the conscience is satisfied and perfected you begin to have confidence, and with a certain holy anticipation in the hope of divine mercy, you have confidence <regarding> pardon and forgiveness of sins, so the more truly then the more sincerely you fulfill the imposed repentance… To the extent that we attain full and perfect pardon we may also merit eternal glory
4 Aelred of Rievaulx. The Liturgical Sermons: The Reading-Cluny Collection, 1 of 2 – Sermons 85-133. Trans. Daniel Griggs. Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2021. 108-115.