Around the Web on Ash Wednesday
Warm wishes to you all, and prayers for a blessed Lent. I don’t know about you, but I need Lent this year. On the most superficial level, my appetites got the best of me these past few months, and I need to fast, to regain control of them. But I also have a lot of repenting to do, and taking stock of the way I live. We as a culture do as well, and this “day of reckoning” (to use the president’s phrase from last night) now upon us ought to be a time of sober reflection and repentance.
We are creatures of ravenous, indiscriminate desire. We want this and we want that, but most of all, We Want.
Hence the value of Lent, which begins today, and of an old discipline that seems, even among Catholics, to be now somewhat neglected: the traditional discipline of giving things up for Lent. Bookish people being as fallen as anyone else, we might take a brief break from the pressing issues and interesting intellectual questions to reflect on the value of this discipline. Giving things up for Lent has, in my experience, two obvious benefits.
The first is that you very quickly find out how much a hold the world has on you. This is a lesson to which the Christian will give intellectual assent, but few of us really see what it means. We like to think of ourselves being happy to give up anything for the Lord just like that, with a snap of our fingers, even our lives, but most of us find it hard to give up something that really doesn’t matter. You dream of standing up to the lions in the coliseum, and find yourself snapping at the waitress because the restaurant is out of your favorite dessert.
For me, it is a time to think again about the way in which Jesus responded to the pain and suffering of his existence: he saw it as something to be accepted as a path to a deeper love of God. Those still vexed by the theodicy question will find this obtuse; others, especially those who have experienced suffering, may find it redemptive. And in this matter, gay Catholics, who still love our church and its Gospel message and its enriching sacraments, have something perhaps to add to what it means to be a church.
Bracing myself for a dry forty days, it seemed a good time to pull down every bottle of Scotch that I currently have in the liquor closet and do a tasting….
I love walking around with ashes on my head. I love that people stare and probably feel sorry for me because I don’t know there’s dirt on me. I love that it reminds people that, oh yeah, it’s Ash Wednesday and there are people who still go to church. And I love that it gives us — the “marked ones” –a sense of unity and solidarity as we walk past each in other on busy city streets.
This is the day when we remember who and what we are: dust, but children of God nonetheless. It’s a day when humility gets pride of place. I can think of no more important virtue for the world today and for all of us.
My Lenten commitments over the past few years have tended to involve reducing my use of some kind of technology. This year I’m going to cut back on blogging and reading blogs, in hopes of using the extra time to better purpose. If I post, I’ll avoid my usual topics in favor of something appropriate to the season, probably theology. (Please don’t say I’m “blogging my way through Lent”—nothing so gauche as that!)