“The Monday after Easter–an Easter wherein we eat a ton of meat and cheese after a Lent of trying (and often failing) at being vegan–should be called ‘Monday of the worship of the Porcelain god,’ or maybe even ‘Pepto Bismol Monday’, not just ‘Bright Monday.'”
This weekend marks the final and pivotal acts in the redemption of humanity.
Having grown up in the Roman rite of the Catholic Church, one of my favorite reflections on the mystery of Pascha comes from the Exsultet: “Oh happy fault, that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”
Without that original sin of Adam, that sin that separated us from God and thus from Life, and consequently brought suffering and death to the world, there would be no need for Christ to take on human flesh. There would be no need for Christ to become man “that we might become God” (St. Athanasius).
How desperately we need Christ.
Sometimes Lent become a focus on my deeds, on what I can do for God, and I forget that even those good deeds I do out of love of the Lord are only possible because the energies* of God himself are at work within me.
I need Christ. We need Christ. We need his death, and we need his resurrection.
We have been fasting (some moments more successful than others) this Lent to the point of feeling a physical need. Let us also remember our spiritual hunger and Who it is who comes to fill us.
This season comes every year for me, and every year I am in awe. I try to contemplate the mysteries and they continue to elude me. But I do know for certain–this year more than others especially–that I need Christ, and I need his glorious death and resurrection.
“Christ is risen from the dead! By death, he trampled Death, and to those in the tombs, he granted life.”
*”Energies” is a term in Eastern spirituality to describe a concept that is comparable to, though not completely the same as, “grace” in Western theology.
This post comes from one of my absolute most favorite blogs, Glory to God for All Things. In this post, Father Stephen discusses Lent and what it is meant to be, and he gives a list of some things to consider for how we celebrate Lent. We might already be two weeks into it, but we can still improve how we spend this time!
I am linking it here on my blog because I wholeheartedly agree with his premise that traditional practice flourishes our humanity:
Does any of this matter? Why should Christians in the modern world concern themselves with a traditional practice?
What is at stake in the modern world is our humanity. The notion that we are self-authenticating individuals is simply false. We obviously do not bring ourselves in existence – it is a gift. And the larger part of what constitutes our lives is simply a given – a gift. It is not always a gift that someone is happy with – they would like themselves to be other than they are. But the myth of the modern world is that we, in fact, do create ourselves and our lives – our identities are imagined to be of our own making. We are only who we choose to be. It is a myth that is extremely well-suited for undergirding a culture built on consumption. Identity can be had at a price. The wealthy have a far greater range of identities available to them – the poor are largely stuck with being who they really are.
But the only truly authentic human life is the one we receive as a gift from God. The spirituality of choice and consumption under the guise of freedom is an emptiness. The identity we create is an ephemera, a product of imagination and the market. The habits of the marketplace serve to enslave us – Lent is a call to freedom.
On a side note: I know I haven’t been writing much of my own posts lately, and this blog is still sorely lacking in discussion of bodily functions. During Lent, I am focusing a little bit more on reading rather than writing. Plus, I’m sure a lot of other people have more important things to say than I do, and I am simply passing their work on!
A lot about this very candid blog post rang true for me. Despite my real appreciation for this Roman holy day’s spiritual meaning, all of that good fruit is lost when we run around posting selfies of our “good Catholic” selves. And I still can’t decide how I feel about #ashtag–especially the Fellowship of Catholic University Students’ (FOCUS) chart on what kind of ashes you got and their promotion of the ashed selfies–in relation to all of this: just good humor or another means to proclaim to the world how holy we are with our ashes or a distraction from the real meaning of those ashes?
This candid article was a solid reminder to me that Lent–whether we started it with Clean Monday or Ash Wednesday–isn’t meant to begin with a prideful display of piety but with the remembrance that we are sinners desperately in need of God’s mercy.
Lent is not about how good we are, but about our need for forgiveness. It is not about us taking away Jesus’s pain on the Cross or being His savior by our good deeds, but about our need for Him to be *our* savior, regardless of what we do.
“O Jesus, how is it that I could not follow the path of the just Abel, that I could not present to you pure offerings, holy deeds and an unblemished sacrifice, by the purity of my life?
…Despite my faults, O Savior, I truly know that you are the Lover of us all.
You chastise those whom you love, and generous is your mercy; you behold
my tears, and you hasten to meet me, your prodigal.”
Today is Clean Monday, aka the beginning of Great Lent for the Eastern Christian churches. Suck it, Rome. Not only do we have an extra adjective before our season of repentance, we’re doing this two days longer than you are. And yes, I believe bragging about it is TOTALLY compatible with everything God said about fasting: “Make sure you look gloomy and let everyone else know how much better your fast is than theirs” Gospel of Pride 1:1.
Thankfully, God has never given me any reason to be prideful about fasting because I suck at it. I am generally a very hungry person who does not like change. Hands up if you’re with me. Don’t think I don’t see you reaching for that Snickers bar. You should give me a bite.
Last year I was enduring the first trimester of pregnancy during Great Inconvenience, I mean, um, Lent, so fasting from anything was unusually difficult. I started by giving up Facebook, and that led to some very unholy frustration and the realization that I needed to change fasts. I tried chocolate, which was also a problem. I finally ended up deciding to give up–wait for it–wait for it–automatic doors. Yes, I decided I would be a true ascetic and force myself to push open my own door. And do you know what? It was a good fast, as evidenced by how much I looked forward to the Monday after Easter so that I could walk through those blessed automatic doors on my way to class.
While I’d like to blame most of this on being pregnant, I tend to think I would have ended up giving up those automatic doors regardless.
I wouldn’t say I’m awesome at almsgiving or prayer either. Even though I know the point of Great Lent is to not be awesome at those things, it is nevertheless difficult anticipating taking on a task which you know will be particularly difficult. Thus, the anticipation of every Lenten season brings about much wailing and gnashing of teeth on my part.
That was until this year’s Great Lent, when I read Great Lent by Alexander Schmemann in the months prior. Father Schmemann was an Orthodox Christian priest and a brilliant student of theology. In this book, he explains our Eastern Lenten traditions, liturgies and prayers in depth without getting too heady, and he also discusses what we must do in our personal lives to make this season fruitful. What I enjoy most is that Father Schmemann writes about the fruitfulness and the true spiritual fullness of Lent, whereas Lent is so popularly seen as a season of removing and doing without. While we are fasting, there are incredible spiritual gifts to help us truly live all the themes of this season such as the Pre-sanctified Liturgies, the Canon of St. Andrew, and All Souls Saturdays. Even though I knew all of these things existed prior to reading Father Schmemann’s book, he illuminated their meaning and their importance for me while teaching me many facts about our Lenten traditions that I had never learned, such as Pre-sanctified Liturgies being meant to give us the spiritual strength of the Eucharist on Wednesday and Friday because we (are supposed to) fast with particular intensity on those days.
A couple of notes:
1) I know some of you are saying to yourselves “But he’s Orthodox, not Catholic, so why are you reading him?” Byzantine Catholics are essentially an Orthodox church that came into union with Catholicism. We maintain our Orthodox spirituality and theology almost entirely.
2) For Western Christians who decide to pick up this book, be forewarned that Father Schmemann is very honest and occasionally harsh in explaining his disagreement with certain Western concepts, such as Eucharistic adoration. As a Byzantine, I find his disagreement enlightening, but I prefer to honor the validity of those Western beliefs because of our unity. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I practice them but that I see them as valid concepts for a Catholic to adopt.
I will probably still suck at fasting, prayer, and almsgiving this year (which is how it’s supposed to be anyway, right?), but I think I will be more able to recognize the fruit of these and of other Lenten practices after reading Father Schmemann’s book. I would highly highly highly recommend Great Lent for any Eastern Christian out there who, like me, generally sucks at or just doesn’t look forward to Lent. I’d also recommend it for anyone interested in learning a little more about the Eastern Christian churches.