Archives for February 2006

The Beginning of Lent

Tomorrow Lent officially begins with the fast day of Ash Wednesday. I have always had a great love of Lent ever since I began to keep it somewhat haphazardly as an evangelical. Lent always held a sense of mystery for me because I grew up in an evangelical tradition that never really embraced Lent (but, thankfully didn’t condemn it either; think of it as a "personal option."). I started to become interested in Lent about the same time I took an interest in the Church Fathers.

My first experience with Lent was as an evangelical at university. In a way, I was quite brave because I gave up coffee! It was honestly the hardest Lent I’ve ever been through, but I faithfully didn’t touch a drop until I broke the Lenten fast with Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. That was the best cup of coffee I ever had in my entire life! When I became an Anglican I entered into Lent on a more formal level and it was a time of important spiritual growth. After my conversion to Catholicism my love of and participation in Lent has only increased.

In short: I love Lent. I can’t really explain why I look forward to Lent, but I receive an incredible sense of joy throughout these 40 days. There’s something about the "spiritual housecleaning" and sense of detachment and renunciation that brings about great spiritual satisfaction and blessing. I now could never truly know the joy of Easter without the season of Lent and the time of Holy Week and the Triduum. We can’t separate the Cross from the resurrection and we can’t liturgically separate Lent from Easter either: at least not with any theological integrity.

With all other Catholics of a certain age, I will be fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and having meatless Fridays. However, it’s also a venerable custom to “give something up” for Lent or institute positive practices that encourage spiritual growth. This year I’m thinking of giving up adding hot chocolate to my morning coffee. I’m also going to give up going to McDonald’s when I get a craving and getting snacks at the local gas station. I’m also going to read the Church Fathers and the Bible daily. I’m not saying this to brag about my supposed piety, but merely to give suggestions to others.

May God bless you this Lent! (I’m off to McDonalds)

Lent Resources:

All About Lent
Lenten Prayers

Blogs:

Chad has commented here and here.
LutherPunk is excited that Lent is coming
Argent writes about going into the wilderness
John Heard reminds us that we are but dust
St. Peters Helpers gives a great post on preparing for Lent
The Anchoress says there’s something about ashes

The Significance of the Church Year

Valentine’s Day is coming, so we men had better make sure we have some chocolates and roses handy, lest we end up in the doghouse for the next few weeks. Mother’s Day is just around the corner, and I can’t wait until we get to take our mothers out to eat at the local buffet. Soon we’ll be grilling out and watching fireworks on a humid 4th of July Night. So how does this relate to theology? Well, many churches faithfully celebrate these holidays (with the exception of Valentine’s Day) in their worship services. While I enjoy these holidays, and celebrate them every year, I still recognize them for what they are: secular holidays.

Many Christians are weary of living on secular time. It is not that we have a problem with secular holidays; we just want something deeper, something connected to our faith. After all, secular time is, well, secular. Let’s take February for example. Secular time offers one federal holiday, president’s day, and two other holidays: Groundhog’s Day and Valentine’s Day. None have any real Christian significance (despite the Christian origins of Valentine’s Day and Groundhog’s Day). Besides that, there are only three, yes a whopping three, holidays in February. Talk about disappointing.

However, during the same month of February, the Christian calendar celebrates the following holidays (and many more): the Presentation of the Lord, St. Polycarp, Ss. Cyril and Methodius, and often the season of Lent (this year Lent begins in March). So if we follow the Christian calendar, we are able to reflect on a major event in the life of our Lord (with an amazing candle service), learn about a great early bishop and martyr, and pray with the apostles to the Slavs. We also usually begin our 40-day period of fasting in February, when we recall the fasting Jesus did in the wilderness, as we fast ourselves.

I am not trying to force the Church Calendar on anybody. The Liturgical year is a blessing, something meaningful in which to participate, and something we must discover for ourselves. However, I think many churches need to rethink their general suspicion of church holidays and their uncritical celebration of many secular holidays. A Christian I met in college is a perfect example of this thinking. As a Methodist, I was observing Lent, and was talking about it with my girlfriend at the time. When he overheard our conversation, he said, “Lent! Are you Catholic?” in a somewhat scornful tone. He was suspicious of a Christian holiday rooted in the life of Jesus, a Christian season that helps us spiritually clean house, yet he had no problem observing Independence Day or Memorial Day in his church, clearly secular holidays. While I love my country and enjoy celebrating it, Lent is only holiday in this paragraph with clear biblical roots.

I invite everyone to explore what many of us call “holy time” or “sanctified time.” The Church Year is God’s time, cycled around the major events of our salvation and redemption, cycled around JESUS. I think you will find observing the Church Year (through prayer, worship, and reading) to be very meaningful. What can be more meaningful than time that centers around Jesus? Below is what I have written on the ChurchYear.Net page, expressing what we believe the Church Year to be:

In the course of a year, the Church celebrates the unfolding of the mystery of Christ, beginning with Advent, anticipating his first coming, and reaching a high point at Easter, the feast of feasts, celebrating Christ’s resurrection. Through the Church Year, which includes the seasonal, daily, and yearly cycles of Christian time, we live into the events of Jesus and his followers through sanctified time. Thus, we experience in symbol what Jesus and his followers did in reality. We do this through daily prayer (The Liturgy of the Hours), worship, the Eucharist, the sacraments, art, changing colors, canticles, psalms, antiphons, symbols, and other means.

The Church Year, including all liturgical celebrations and times of prayer, is one of the most meaningful dimensions of the Catholic faith. Many Christians of all traditions feel drawn to this system of holy time, and prefer to orient their lives around the Christian calendar instead of the secular calendar. Postmodern men and women feel especially drawn to many elements of Sanctified Time: mystery, connection to the past, and a multitude of religious symbols and experiential elements. Thus the Church Year is a postmodern Catholic evangelism tool, and a means of spiritual growth for all who use it.

Thanks to Chad for getting me thinking about the Church Year!

Come With Your Questions

Once again, We at Ancient and Future Catholics are having an event. This Wednesday, February 8, at 9:00 PM EST, we will be having a general Question and Answer session about the Catholic Church and issues relating to the Church. The event will be held in our Paltalk Room, Catholics Building Bridges. Please join us, bringing your questions (and answers!).

To hear some of these events in action, please check out the Ancient and Future Catholic Podcast!