The Other I

February 6, 2008

Thoughts on Ash Wednesday

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion,Diet — theotheri @ 2:16 pm

The relationship between the forty days of Lent which beings today with Ash Wednesday and being on a diet is unmistakable.  And since I remain in my battle with my extra three pounds, I have been thinking about Lent as it was practiced in my family on the farm and during my convent years. 

On Ash Wednesday as children we all trotted off to church and had ashes smeared on our forehead, a reminder of our death to come, the passing vanities of today’s pleasures, and the need to live a life of love and conviction.  We took our Lenten resolutions seriously in those days, giving up candy and parties or making resolutions to do anything else we may have decided would improve our spiritual well-being.  They were the standard things – keeping my bedroom clean, helping with the dishes without complaining, saying the rosary kneeling up straight instead of slouched against a chair.   Most of the resolutions we made we kept, and when Easter came, it really did feel like a day of sunshine when we put on our new Easter clothes and went off to church together before hunting for the Easter eggs.  Even as an adult, I remember my Dad giving up alcohol during Lent, and his opening up the liquor cabinet in the kitchen on Easter Sunday to make his classic dry manhattan.

Those days are gone for me now forever, if only because the foundation of my belief has changed too radically for me to return to those childhood days.  But I can’t regret them, and their foundation of discipline and sense of seasonal rhythms that today almost seem to belong to the Middle Ages.

I ponder what kind of world we might have if Roman Catholicism continues to decline in the world.  I splutter at the arrogance of Rome’s claim to infallibility, at its unrepentant chauvinism, at the hypocrisy of celibacy which in my experience often is a mere excuse for sex without commitment.  And yet I am convinced that the world will always have a need for answers to those questions science can’t answer.  Does life have a meaning?  Is death merely a ghastly joke?  Why is there so much suffering?  Has the universe always existed, was it created, will it always exist?

So if we are going to have religious belief, which set of beliefs are most benign, which least destructive of the human spirit?   The answers are certainly not black and white.  But I am not at all sure the human race would be happier if Catholicism were, in practice, to be displaced by Islam or Buddhism or other approaches to Christianity or any other religion with which I am acquainted.  It seems to me each religion, like each culture, and each individual, holds both a piece of the light and a piece of the darkness, the best and the worst of humankind.

Getting rid of one religious persuasion or all of them isn’t going to change the basic challenge of humanity. 

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