Living Lent in the Fast Lane | Mark Shea | CWR
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving remain the basic pillars of our Lenten practice for a very good reason
I’m pretty lousy at doing Lent. So I’m a natural for yakking about it since (just between you and me) you’re pretty lousy at it too, no? Seriously, who says, “I am the most awesome penitent of all time!”
We all do a lousy job at Lent, by and large, because Lent is about repentance and mortification and preparation for death with Jesus on the cross and self-donating love that resolutely puts aside our own wants, needs, and desires aside in favor of obedience to God and the love of our neighbor. And, come on, who wants that?
What I want is what I want. I want a salvation that comes with the praises of this world. I want people applauding me, understanding me, acclaiming my goodness and intelligence. I want cash prizes and awards ceremonies where (after the tearful tribute from, say, the Pope which concludes, “Thanks Mark. I have learned so much from you!”) the people I admire most in this world leap to their feet and drown me with thunderous applause and roses. I want pan-fried oysters and lots of ‘em, followed by chocolate and some favorite movie or book to curl up with. I want leisure to finally work on that novel I’ve been noodling. I want a prayer life in which I am given to instantly see and understand divine mysteries and pain is simply a theoretical problem that, at worst, troubles somebody else. I want to be seen as generous, but I don’t want it to cost me anything. I want to have solid abstract answers to the problem of suffering without needing to actually have any contact with icky, suffering people. I want to be 19 forever, with a hundred bucks in my pocket and all the insolence of youth propelling me into a future where the world is mine, babes are free for the taking, and responsibility is for suckers, all under a smiling summer sun.
In short, I want God to finally get over his intractable hostility to the world, the flesh, and the devil and broker some kind of reasonable compromise between holiness and selfishness. Can’t we all just get along?
Going into the desert
Lent is the reminder that all this sort of thinking is, well, ashes. Bupkis. Skubala. “Refuse”—as English translators of Scripture politely put it. It’s the reminder that this passing world is passing indeed and that none of that stuff is going to matter in the final analysis. Lent is for focusing the mind, heart, and spirit on God: for getting away from it all, not on an all-expense-paid Lenten Caribbean Cruise, but to the desert.
That’s the first thing to notice about Lent: the desert.