Sunday, March 1, 2009

First Sunday of Lent

The icon is from Holy Trinity Orthodox Church in Ohio.
Unlike some I have not given up blogging for Lent but I was more than a little distracted. So Lent is here. I find it interesting that one of the Lenten prefaces calls this season joyful. What's joyful about giving things up? What's joyful about hunger? At the moment I'm reading Bernard Cornwell's Sword Song (set in the England of King Alfred) and I'm surprised by the level of anti-Christian sentiment it holds. The Christian (read Catholic) faith is presented as joyless, dour, legalistic and oppressive in contrast to the humane paganism that surrounds it. That I think says at lot more about Cornwell's vision than the mindset of an ancient pagan. He's not alone. Perhaps too often we have sold our faith as what we do not do rather than what we do. It strikes me that the three remedies proposed for sin: prayer, fasting and abstinence, and alms-giving cover both the 'negative' and 'positive' dimensions of the Lenten season. On the negative there is what we give up or deny ourselves, cut back on or reduce. This negation makes space in our lives for the Lord and for our neighbour. Into this space we can put our energies - the 'positive'- by not just giving cash but also giving time, effort, care, love. One without the other will not work. What point is our fasting if our love reaches out to no one? How can one reach out if one does not create the space, the time? Where will the will for all this come from without prayer for without God's help we can do nothing. It's our inability to do what is right that brings us to that other dimension of Lent: confession. The struggle to do better, to pray more, to give more, to give things up, often brings up our darker side: the illusion that each of us is the centre of the universe. Our passions surface in the struggle and they do so as sin. In the space created by fasting we can pay attention to that brokenness and bring it to the Lord to be healed in the sacrament. After all our Lord Himself fell three times so we should not expect an easy time of it. We can think of sin as the symptom of an illness - the fall - that Christ our doctor and our remedy has come not only to heal but to eliminate entirely - in Irish 'saviour' is rendered as 'health-giver'.

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