Written by: Bro. Brian Poulin
Saturday of the First Week of Lent
Lent isn’t typically portrayed as the happiest time of the year. There’s a traditional school of thought that views the Lenten season primarily as an opportunity to unite oneself with Christ’s suffering or at least to take on extra disciplines to hopefully tame whatever temptations or desires most often distract us from being who we truly want to be. Regardless of how praiseworthy these efforts may be, neither sounds like very much fun—not that having fun is ultimately the most important thing ever.
I also value Lent as a time to focus more deliberately on the suffering of God’s people throughout the world. How can we come to better understand the challenges faced by so many and provide at least some kind of support as an expression of love and unity? Over recent years, I have developed the custom of reading Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir, Night, as a spiritual practice on Good Friday. Suffering and evil are painful realities of this world that are unhealthy to perpetually ignore, just as they are unhealthy to perpetually wallow in.
As Lent begins this year though, my attention is drawn to what seems to be a common Catholic tendency to fixate excessively on Christ’s suffering. Don’t get me wrong, it is truly impossible to fully appreciate the depth of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Awareness of and meditation upon that suffering can potentially lead us into an ever fuller appreciation of Christ’s great love for us that made all his suffering worth it. Furthermore, the horror of the Crucifixion emphasizes the glory of the Resurrection all the more. I can understand the instinct that seeks to honor Christ’s sacrifice through a certain style of solemn reverence.
The fact is however, that many good people throughout history have been unjustly tortured and killed because of their acts of selfless love. They are all worthy of being honored, regardless of how imperfect other areas of their lives may have been. The Christian faith distinguishes One however, who conquered death by his Resurrection, rather than succumbing to the grave — and his rising has given us the promise of new life as well. Doesn’t that merit exuberant celebration through dancing, smiling, vibrant colors, and uplifting music? Are these expressions simply a different kind of reverence that draw attention to what makes Jesus unique among all the martyrs? Yet most Catholic Masses seem to be more funereal in their solemnity than celebratory in their joy.
This Lent, I do want to take the opportunity to explore themes related to solidarity, since Christian love demands concern for our neighbor and stewardship of this world requires that we strive for greater justice rather than pretending that everything is already just fine. I also want to use this time of increased liturgical solemnity though to remember why expressions of joy are so important, especially in religious and even worship settings. If Christian faith is real to us, shouldn’t it lead us naturally into joyous celebration?
Even St. Paul tells us to “rejoice always.”
The ‘ear candy’ for this month encourages us to rejoice for all God’s goodness to us even during times of hardship. Regarding the theme of Lenten solidarity, the ‘brain food’ calls us to stand with members of our Jewish family during these unfortunately perilous times.
Ear Candy: “I Smile” by Kirk Franklin
Brain Food: “For Catholics, Lent 2023 Is a Time to Act Against Antisemitism” by Jim McDermott, SJ
Come back on the first Saturday of next month for a new post!