The Culture of Lent

The Culture of Lent

Ordinarily, I don’t consider culture and Lent in the same phrase but in determining what to call my thoughts and ideas about Abraham, Moses, The Transfiguration and metanoia, I realized how fitting is the word culture to describe these people, that event and a new way of thinking and living. When we speak of culture, we mean a cumulative deposit of knowledge, beliefs, values, notions of time and of roles and so yes, a Lenten culture.

I am not a ‘cradle Catholic.’ I was not born into the faith; I joined around the time that many were leaving, a comment many of my friends thought typified some of the decisions I had made in my life. It was the latter nineties and the Boston Globe was demonizing the then Cardinal Bernard Law and the Catholic Church for the now well-known sexual scandals that plague the Church -all of society, as it happens but of course, we pay more attention to the flaws and foibles of frocked humans, as perhaps we should.

Why the background?

Because a culture which one assimilates as an adult is very different from one into which we are born. Frequently I reminded of the different attitudes I hold toward my faith as a convert when I speak with those who have lived it all of their life. And during Lent, I notice our differences more acutely.

Why Abraham?

I can remember still the first Jewish wedding I witnessed, the yearning for some of what my Jewish friends seemed to have during that ceremony where only Hebrew was spoken and where the men wore yarmulkes and ancient traditions were practiced. Despite the fact that we sat in an exclusive downtown Houston hotel, the words and the ceremonies altered the very air we breathed. I hungered for what they had.

And later, several years later, when everything and nothing changed and I became a Catholic, I met Abraham. Father of a progeny so prodigious his children would outnumber the grains of sand on the beach, the stars in the sky. I smiled when I first realized that the writer in Exodus is talking not about his Jewish descendants but of me- I remembered the hunger and it had been satiated.

Child of Abraham? Yes!

Each Lent, we read about Abraham taking the son he had awaited until old age. The son he was willing to sacrifice. This year, I think differently about his act, his willingness to obey the instruction he heard and realize why, in the mind of God, he would be called the Father of So Many.

It was trust, yes, obedience but fundamentally, this man trusted that what God had in mind would be right.

Imagine…that level of trust.

Moses, the reluctant leader of the Israelites. A man who was marked from childhood, despite many flaws and a supreme lack of confidence to be the only man who could see the face of God and live. Each Lent, we read the tales of the forty years in the desert, of hundreds of thousands feeding on manna from heaven at a table prepared in the desert for them.

Imagine….and still they could not trust.

This past Sunday was the Feast of the Transfiguration. Christ takes Peter, John and James up to see him transfigured into something so splendid they cannot keep their eyes on him because of the glory they are seeing. They see him talking with Moses and Elijah and then they hear the voice that the Israelites heard in the desert:

Behold, this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him.

Imagine….days later, all denied him.

Metanoia is such an intriguing word: exotic yet simple. Often and sadly misquoted as ‘repent’ the Greek word is intended as ‘turning around’ in order to effect a total change of heart, mind, attitude and way of life. This is the work of the Lenten journey, the forty days we are given to ponder the years in the desert, those three short years of the public ministry of Christ. The work we miss if we focus on giving up chocolate.

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