Hallo again to all.
'No, thanks', you say politely. 'I think I've had my share of introspective reflection, self-scrutiny, and metaphysical angst this year'.
'And by the way,' you add, 'I keep a skull / hourglass / memento mori on my desk. I chose "Respice Finem" for my motto'.
'Not enough?' you query, adding, 'I recycle. I pray. I volunteer. I go to church at least weekly'.
You end pleadingly, 'Can't I just give Lent a miss this year?'
Well, no. For those of us who profess and call ourselves Catholic Christians, there is no 'Get Out of Lent Free' pass. We'll admit some people we're honoured to call friends truly love Lent. It is, they claim, their favourite liturgical season. The reflection, the discipline, the focus: all these things cluster together for 40 days and for them make the season of Lent seem like a mini-spiritual spa vacation. We admire that, but we don't share in it.
Lent underwent something a reboot in the late twentieth century, with the emphasis shifting from 'giving up' to 'taking on'. But now as we all fight the strong tsunami of email, Facebook, Twitter, Google calendars washing over our daily lives, raise your hand if you're ready to taking on something more. Most of us are desperately trying to carve out a few minutes time as it is for prayer, meditation, family, friends — and church. The traditional 'giving up' confessedly has more appeal than the 'taking on'.
Some people forestall the tsunami of 24/7 communication by fasting from all of that (or most of it) during Lent. Enforced quietness could be a very fine thing and would allow space for more . . . of God. But that space shouldn't be ordinary time, as it were, but time that has a distinctly Lenten aspect to it. And just what is that? In essence, 'self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word'.
There it is again: the willingness to deny one's self [whatever] and to explore the dark and ashy side of the Christian life; to push aside the gold and frankincense, and pick up the myrrh. To put away the flowers, to cover the stained-glass, to be iconoclastic with regard to the icons in our own lives, even the good ones. The purposeful stripping away for 40 days, opting for monochromatic grey skies with no bright shaft of sun (except on Sundays).
Lent is just plain hard. And it should be. If there weren't Lent, we'd be clomping along the old three-dimensional, tangible, incarnational path in our pilgrimage. We'd pick our way through the things of this world, from lapis lazuli to laptops, from digital downloads to damask altar cloths, images and signs of God's great abundance. Easter would be ahead, somewhere out there, probably in April.
That sounds utterly wrong. It's the idea of 'No Lent' that causes us to stop and thank God for the wisdom of the Church in its ordering of time and its understanding of human nature. During Lent, we still partake in the 'empty calories of daily existence', as someone once called it, but we're conscious of things given up, put away, stripped down, made sharper and clearer. Bernard of Clairvaux captures the knife's edge of living between the two worlds:
Spernere mundum, spernere nullum; Spernere sese, spernere se sperni
And that's just plain hard.
If you roll a bit of the sticky resin called myrrh between your fingers, its strange, dusky, shadowy scent will emerge and catch something beyond words of loss and sadness. Myrrh itself comes through piercing a thorny tree, to penetrate through the bark and into the sapwood, until the tree bleeds a resin. How strange and how apt that myrrh — beyond heralding our Lord's tomb — also foreshadows the crown of thorns and the piercing of His side. (There are no coincidences).
So despite our foot dragging and childish reluctance, we're ready once again to set off on those strange forty days. We all know the End of the Story, but we can't get there unless we go here first.
See you next week.
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