Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Have a Great Time
I always want to wish everyone a "Happy Ash Wednesday" because I am exuberant about Lent. Of course that would be inappropriate. I know "Have a Blessed Ash Wednesday" would be the way to go, but it doesn't cut it for me. Too.........quiet.
Lent has begun. What a great time!
Not a great time, as in 'we had a great time."
A great time, as in "times that are full of greatness."
Just for a moment let's pretend we're not Catholic. Only for a moment, though, really. (And let's not get hit by a bus during this moment. You're ashes can go to ashes and your dust to dust after the moment passes.)
What would we get out of Lent, with no religion involved, by just using the time to do without?
Character building, that's what. Anyone who had had to live through the Great Depression, or been in bootcamp, or deployed away from home, or scraping by to feed the family and pay the bills or taken a back seat one day so someone else can shine will tell you that giving something up builds character.
So to do it for forty days will build quite a bit of character. "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Who said that anyhow? FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE. Speaking of no religion involved!
Now let's be Catholic again.
Whew! I hope no meteors hit anyone.
Lent is where the rubber hits the road to heaven. Because we are not just going to give something up. We are going to sacrifice. The word "sacrifice" (which no doubt does not appear in Oxford Junior Dictionary) is from the Latin sacrificium: sacr, "sacred" + facere, "to make." We are going to make what we don't do sacred.
Which means: no whining, no blabbering about our great sacrificesl. Do it. Offer it up. And shut up about it.
And : BE PLEASANT.
Which brings me to today's question:
I have an Ash Wednesday question. My husband just brought it up as if it were an original idea, but I have wondered this every year for years. The Gospel reading for today starts out: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them." Then we go out from Mass and go to our jobs or our shopping with big black crosses on our foreheads. So, isn't there a bit of irony in that? How do we reconcile the words and the act in this case?
Something has gone awry in your thinking about the meaning of the ashes and why we walk around with them on all day. Wearing ashes on your head is not a 'righteous deed'. Wearing ashes on your head is supposed to be an act of humility. Even more so in today's society where everyone is so very conscious of how they look every second.
You do need to shut up about your righteous deeds when you actually do them. You don't give money to the poor and then run around all day telling everyone you gave money to the poor. This is not election day for the good deed doers, where you get to wear a little sticker all day that says, "I gave." This is the day to wear ashes on your head all day because you are just a pile of dust that God chose to give life. You pile of dust you.
The ashes on your head don't tell everyone on the bus that you have done righteous deeds. The ashes on your head tell everyone on the bus that you are really a pile of dust.
At the end of Lent we will be celebrating the fact that we are piles of dust that God chose to give eternal life. Pretty impressive. But not to be confused with righteous deeds.
Why did we have that reading today? Because today is about being humble. The whole season is about humility. But showing up for Mass is not a righteous deed. It's an obligation.