Monday, February 22, 2010

Some (Late) Thoughts on Lent

The older I get, the more I realize how difficult it is to live by faith. Perhaps I am very much a product of this generation, a generation that has taken upon itself to adapt, wittingly or otherwise, a paradigm hitherto unknown to any in this country, or maybe because I realize I am now twenty one and have yet to prove anything significant to myself. Or maybe I am just undersexed, as a friend put it. I laughed a little at that, I admit. But for better or worse, I cannot now forget all that I have learned about my faith; I have idealized it, made it the primary criterion of my decisions. There are times when I feel very much like a cleric, especially when I am in the midst of friends who are not that religious; but I also feel out of place in the company of 'the holy', the so-called favorites of God, as it were.

And so, I admit, I miss being a nominal Catholic. Lent has come around again, and with it the reminder that I am a sinner. The past year hasn't really been a good one for me, especially spiritually. I feel as if God has honestly deserted me sometimes. Of course, I can't really complain about that (well at least not publicly, or aloud). I sometimes ask myself, 'What is the point?' Indeed, there doesn't seem to be one, since I am just as sinful, just as arrogant, just as obstinate as I was before the season started. Part me of wants to say that the whole discipline of Lent is just about trying to appear pious and good before other people; but at the same time, I know that I need it, need to become a better person, a holier person.

But maybe that's just it: Lent becomes too much of an exercise about us. It becomes a tedious exercise of phony self-improvement, as if such an important liturgical season were really just another vehicle for self-empowerment, self-aggrandization, and self-promotion. Lent used to be simpler: you would just abstain from meat on Fridays, pray the rosary on your knees with outstretched hands, sing the pasyon, or do some charitable deed to your fellow man. Perhaps, because we are living in a so-called 'sophisticated' age, we think that these things are too comical, too cartoonish to be taken seriously in this era where everyone wants to save Darfur, save the whales, save the trees and what not. How can abstaining from meat help the world? How can smudge of ash on one's forehead improve the lot of mankind? The answer, is, of course, evident: they don't. But they help us to master the heart, to tame the senses, to contemplate what we would otherwise be oblivious to. If there is anything I 'envy' about nominal Catholics, it is this recognition of human limitation. Sir Anthony Hopkins is reported to have once met a Jesuit, who told him the most effective prayer he knew: 'Fuck it, it's in God's hands.'

And so, I promise I will not care too much if I don't manage to fulfill all my Lenten promises. It would be a good thing if I did, but not for a second will I even think that a mark of a Lent well-spent is the number of pounds I have lost in the process, or how many versions of the Stabat Mater I've managed to listen to when these days of penance are over. Perhaps, the best mortification of all, is to realize that Lent is there to remind us to be perfect-- and not to demonstrate that we already are.

No comments: