Its the beginning of Lent. In this part of the world the season does not start with the splash of celebration that marks Carnival in many other parts of the world, an that I have to guess is due to much of the Protestant, Puritan, Quaker and Shaker heritage of this region. For me, my Mardi Gras simply amounted to a couple glasses of Belgian beer and a Bavarian pretzel. Typically what I splurge on for Fat Tuesday is what I give up for Lent. This time though I think it might be a different, as I think this time around this season might become a little more introspective. That’s not to say I wont give up that Beer and Pretzel.
The readings and the messages of the Mass readings of the day are also quite familiar by now. I am familiar with the call for fast, abstinence, prayer and almsgiving. I have read in detail the legalities of the fast, and have read numerous comments Catholics have made regarding their opinions on how to observe that fast and abstinence. I know all too well that todays fasting requirements are far less than was required decades ago, and I get a sense that many wish the dietary requirements would go back to those of old. The theme that grabs me this particular year is conflict, and it starts with the conflicts amongst Catholics regarding the “legal demands” of the season. This season has to be more that some prescribed legalities and rituals.
let us humbly ask God our Father
that he be pleased to bless with the abundance of his grace
these ashes, which we will put on our heads in penitence.
O God, who are moved by acts of humility
and respond with forgiveness to works of penance,
lend your merciful ear to our prayers
and in your kindness pour out the grace of your + blessing
on your servants who are marked with these ashes,
that, as they follow the Lenten observances,
they may be worthy to come with minds made pure
to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of your Son.
Through Christ our Lord.”
-prayer for the blessing of ashes
There are those ashes once again sitting on my forehead and I think of what they mean today. How can I carry that mark through this season? As I carry that mark, I think of a mark in another part of the world. I think of those Coptic Christians recently martyred, and I think of those Iraqi Christians of Mosul and their persecution. In fact I think of all those who willingly bear the mark of Christianity throughout the Mid East and how they wear their mark amid horrid persecution. For me its ashes on my forehead , for them its the Arabic sign of Nun painted on their homes marking them as Nazarenes or Christians to be driven from their homes and slaughtered. I think about the oppression they bear while being marked as Christians, as I think about what I encounter as I try to navigate through this season. Certainly not everyone I encounter in this strongly secular society follows my faith or even approves of it, yet I still have to function in that society while participating in this very important season. I admit it poses some minor challenges. The thing though is that this year whenever I face one of those challenges, I have to pause to think of the challenges of those Christians of the Mid East. The mark on my forehead this season places some challenges in the society I live in, but nothing like the extremism and intolerance of other parts of the world. Those then become the focus of this Lenten season.