Today is the 6th Sunday in Epiphany and the last before the Season of Lent. I’ve never been a big fan of Lent or done it well. I don’t know what it is about the season, I do understand Lent’s place in the Church calendar, I understand that historically Lent is a time of penitential introspection, alms giving, abstinence, fasting, self-denial, going into extra innings for prayer, sackcloth and ashes and the like. I also understand the symbolic meaning, the references in scripture to all the different 40 day experiences, Noah’s Mount Ararat cruise line, Moses’ mountaintop stay with God, the 40 fun years in the dessert, and Jesus’ temptations when he went into the desert for 40 days. I also understand how it came about in the life of the early church, it was a time of preparation prior to baptism at Easter for the catechumens. I got it, but until Christianity became the State Religion it was only for the catechumens. When it became the State Religion it became mandatory for all to make the less zealous converts feel more comfortable. I guess they didn’t want to be brought up on charges for hazing so they decided to make everyone do it. Personally if I were the Pope I would make it mandatory for the new folks, like a Chief’s initiation in the Navy and optional for everyone else.
Now I understand the need to examine ourselves individually and as a community to prepare ourselves for Holy week and what hopefully is a closer relationship with God and our fellow believers. This does not mean however that I do Lent well or like it. I have never done it well. Advent which is also a penitential season does not have this affect on me, maybe because it is shorter and I get presents at Christmas. I really don’t know the reason for my dislike of Lent. Hey, look at it, giving up certain cuisine that I like to eat or drink, generally that’s not a problem. Giving to people in need, easy game. Doing some extra prayers, not a problem. Examining my life, that’s not an issue because I know that I’m a screw up and often a jerk. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I among all people am desperately in need of God’s grace. As far as liturgy, taking out a few parts of the liturgy which shortens it and makes it easier, I’m all about that.
Now I have had some funny Lenten experiences. When I was with the Marines in Japan back in February 2001 we could not get any palm leaves. The ones that I had ordered did not show up. It was a pain in the ass. I ended up walking all over the town of Gotemba near Mount Fuji hoping I could find a small palm in a store or nursery. Of course since I needed them, no one had any, and I couldn’t see trying to use a Bonsai tree. So I continued to look. It was dark, cold and I was dragging my battalion Medical Officer all over the town. As snow began to fall I saw something that looked somewhat like a palm. To this day I’m not sure if it was or not, but it was a target of opportunity. I wandered into the front yard of some unsuspecting citizen, took my Swiss Army knife and pruned the ersatz palm of what I needed to celebrate Ash Wednesday. I hope God gave everyone who attended the next day credit for the ashes that I used.
Another funny experience has to do with the prohibition on eating meat on Friday. I hate most fish, I am not a fish eater and tend not to eat anything that swims in its own toilet. I was deployed in 2002 on USS Hue City, a great ship with a great crew. Every Friday was “Surf and Turf.” We had a fine mess section but as noted above I am not a seafood kind of person. However, our guys were good. Often the “surf” part of the menu was either large and meaty Alaskan King Crab or Lobster. So I sacrificed and ate the King Crab and Lobster for the duration of Lent. I did have to suffer in giving up steak, but I did it for Jesus.
Funny experiences aside maybe I dislike Lent because my birthday usually falls during it or Holy Week. Maybe I think it is too long. Maybe it is my rebellious general inclination not to be forced into doing something that I don’t want to do. Think of the irony here: In ministry and the military I have a “chain of command” which tells me what to do, sometimes when I don’t want to do it. Yet because I am a priest and an officer under vows and oaths I do what they say, I am obediant, albeit often grudgingly. When I was going through my worst times with PTSD, chronic pain and insomnia coming back from Iraq, which coincided with the beginning of Lent, I had a hard time even believing in God, prayer was done out of duty and obligation not because I got any warm fuzzies from it.
Basically Lent is my least favorite time of the year. This year will be interesting, I will be celebrating the Eucharist at the hospital for Ash Wednesday. I love celebrating the Eucharist, at the same time I’m going to have to do the 40 days again, what will I give up? I’m not sure. What will I add? God only knows, but this year I am going to do something different. Instead of trying to be glum to suit the mood, I’m going to be live my life like I normally do and be happy, while observing what I am supposed to do for Lent. I’m going to do what Jesus said: “Do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men” (Matthew 6:16) I’m going to have a joyful Lent, besides, when it’s over baseball is back. Amen and Amen Hallelujah!