Anthony Towey

The Christian juxtaposition of Lent and Eastertide might appear at a first glance to be a somewhat contrary contemplation. Lent begins with the dust and ashes of our earthiness and mortality while the Easter exsultet calls upon angels and heavenly hosts in heralding Christ the Morning Star, the quintessence eternal. Caught between misery and ecstasy, grave and zenith, it is small wonder that in the name of religious equanimity, some Christian denominations have eschewed a sense of liturgical season in favour of more predictable patterns of piety.

I was reminded of Catholic seasonal extremism during a recent visit to Malta, as the island prepared for Carnival as a precursor to Lent which in turn is perhaps too simply regarded as a curtain raiser for Easter. On the outward flight, one elderly passenger regaled us with tales of Carnival from her younger days. Now, although she still 'wouldn't miss it for the world', more recently 'they just give me a chair in the square so I can watch it all.' It was lovely to hear her enthusiasm, but it did strike an odd chord. After all, Catholicism is not a spectator sport - we are in the game not in the stands. 

So what is the point of these seasons? Michael Hayes was apt to point out - 'Why do we do Lent every year? It's not because we're thick, but because it's good for us.' The desert days are days of honesty, days when we make time for prayer, fasting, almsgiving. Re-connecting with God, ourselves and our neighbour surely constitutes a salutary and transforming diet and the season also traditionally challenges our addictions great and small. In ancient Rome addiction referred to a legal dependency - the bond of slavery that lenders imposed upon delinquent debtors. While subservience to chocolate might not be so drastic, addictions to status and self-image can be a little more tricky and are clearly a danger among pastoral leaders (Mt. 23.11). Whatever, Lent offers a time of mindfulness, when we ask for the grace to break destructive patterns better to enjoy the freedom of the children of God (Rom. 8.18-21). 

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