Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent

photoPrior to my participating in The Evergreen Community, I had never observed the season of Lent, nor had I been to an Ash Wednesday service.  I had always thought those were things that Catholics did.  I suppose you can call that ignorance.  My prior church background did not include an emphasis on the rhythms of the church year outside of Christmas and Easter (to their loss).  In fact, in reflection it seems that my particular background (Christian Churches/Churches of Christ) have intentionally tried to distance themselves from anything that could remotely appear Catholic.  Church calendar? Gone.  Ash Wednesday? No chance.  Lent?  Forget it.

It continues to strike me how hostile CC/CoC are toward Catholics in particular.  I don’t get that same sense with those of other traditions.  But I suppose it’s not surprising in a movement trying to get back to a “purer Christianity.”  Just one attempt amidst several over the centuries.  There is a large and naive rejection of the history of Christianity between the 1st century and the 16th century.  If it didn’t happen to the apostles or after the reformers, it doesn’t exist because it’s “Catholic.”  For some reason we’re more comfortable with a tradition that barks like dogs at camp meetings.

While there is some legitimate criticism to be made of Catholicism (as there is of the Christian Church), much of the hostility that comes from those in my tradition is based on a misunderstanding and ignorance of what Catholicism actually is and does.  “They worship Mary.”  “Lent is legalistic!”  “Only Catholics give up something for Lent.” “They buy their way out of sin!” On and on it goes.

I confess that I used to be just as ignorant before I actually sought out what Catholics really believe instead of what Christians tell me they believe.

I remember in High School in one of my worse moments giving a speech in speech class about the rightful place of Mary in Christian history (strange in a public high school, I know!)  I did this taking joy in the fact that I was ripping Catholicism and there were Catholics present.  I’ll never forget it because one individual’s face got redder and redder until they got up and stormed out of the classroom.  But there was another Catholic in the room who exhibited a much more mature grace.  She simply sat, looked right at me with a kind of gentleness and compassion, and actively listened to what I was saying.  Who knows what was going on inside of her, but her ability to “turn the other cheek” was remarkable and left an imprint on me.

I’m thankful that I have been brought into the rich history of Ash Wednesday and Lent, for it has been formative in my life.  There is something profound and moving about remembering our mortality while someone puts ash on your head and speaks to you, “Remember, from dust you came and to dust you shall return.”  It’s a helpful reminder that our most important relationship is with the God who created us and will receive us in death.  What better entrance into a season of fasting and repentance as we await the resurrection!

Many Christians also misunderstand the purpose of giving up something for Lent as well.  I’ve noticed strong feelings against the practice because it can be legalistic, obligatory, or meaningless.  But then again, can’t anything else you do on a regular basis?  worship, prayer, silence…  Like everything else, Lent is what you make of it.  Fasting from something that we’ve put too much reliance in over the course of the year or something we’ve put in God’s place is a helpful spiritual exercise.  Isn’t repentance and fasting part of the Christian tradition through all ages?  What is it that is particularly “Catholic?”

Sometimes I think I put too much stock in what those on the internet say of me, or if people think I’m funny, or if I get “retweets” etc. and that can easily become more important, more valuable to me than what God says of me.  So this Lent season I’m giving up social media.  I don’t need people on the internet to tell me who I am.  What I need is for God to tell me who I am.  That is the purpose and intent of my Lenten fast.

If that’s too “Catholic” for you, too bad.  🙂

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