Apparently my oblique reference to our country’s problems and the need to turn the promulgators on their heads ruffled some feathers last week. Of course, thanks to timings both celestial and clerical, Lent has arrived to save me from the arduous process of leading willfully blind ideologues. As always, I will once again be fasting political commentary until we have celebrated the holiest days in Christendom - Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil.
It must be noted that my Eastern brothers and sisters are subject to a different calendar - I wish them well during their solemn season. For those who are unfamiliar with the “East lung of the Church,” I’ll only mention that their Lent is often observed with a complete avoidance of any and all meat. I attempted it once and survived, but will readily admit our non-occidental brethren are a tough bunch for enduring such fare annually. We in the West could learn by their example.
Indeed, fasting is supposed to be sacrificial, the discomfort serving as a reminder of the One who suffered death on our behalf. It is odd that modern sentiment would have no one make war for religious belief but also considers divinely inspired mortification to be in bad taste. In our age of materialist abundance, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving appear grotesque - all wanting is thought to be cruel or unusual torture. How can anyone who chooses it be considered sane?
But of course the goal is not sanity but sainthood. It is hard to know where Mother Teresa or Maximillian Kolbe would stand on the sane-o-meter, the former having said she met Christ in the poor, the latter having willingly chosen starvation in a death camp to save another. But we recognize a divine glow about these, and more wild eyed saints, precisely because their values and viewpoints were not the common one. Something set them apart - the definition of holiness.
The Church’s calendar assists we the laity on this “journey apart,” her seasons and days highlighting the words our souls need to hear and the course we must take. On Ash Wednesday, all will be reminded that we are indeed dust, that we have fallen away from the true path, that we must repent, while soot is rubbed on our foreheads by Christ himself in the distressing disguise of the priest. To the modern, I can only point out that wake-up calls are often like this - grotesque.
Perhaps that’s a bridge too far, even amongst the faithful. We’d prefer to syncretize the health and wealth preached in many places today by those with white, teethy smiles and narrow eyes - an apt description for modern wolves, if we recall that we are but sheep according to both the Old and New Testaments. No, the easy path leads to destruction, the wolves scatter the flock, the shallow soil or weeds of this world fail to sustain us and strangle our meager growth.
Liturgy and literature point to the proper example - a man held up by nails, abandoned by his comrades, mourned by his mother, crying out for help from above with his last breath. This is not a pastoral scene - it’s obscene, grotesque, and hard to countenance. But that is where our Lenten fast leads, until light floods our darkened sanctuaries three days later at the final triumph.
Thus it is right and just that we attempt to imitate Our Savior, to suffer with him who was willing to suffer for us, though blameless. To be clear, even the apostles could not fathom this idea at first, asking for favours in the kingdom to come without sacrifice. The Lord’s answer is the same now as it was two millennia ago - “are you able to drink the chalice that I am to drink?”