3.11.2011

the courage to wander into the wilderness

I recently stumbled upon a blog called Catholic Phoenix that I really enjoy. It has lots of eloquent, thought-provoking contributors who write on everything from liturgy to poetry to teenagers to philosophy. And they're funny! You can't beat that. Anyway, I recommend this post on the Lenten longing for Easter. The author tells us how, after converting to Catholicism, he followed the older tradition of fasting the duration of Lent, which left him....hungry. Literally. And this hunger underscored everything he did for 40 long days. He writes
Penance during Lent seems to be the way that we submit to that [cleansing] purgative fire. Or rather, it is the way that we embrace it. We simply don’t get to the glorious promise of Easter until we have suffered, because the triumph of Easter was obtained only through Christ’s suffering. Indeed, His voluntary suffering. Fasting is difficult not only because constant hunger taxes our bodies. Fasting is difficult because it requires us to voluntarily suffer; we must choose to be hungry. In Practice in Christianity, Søren Kierkegaard (writing under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus) argues that Christian suffering is Christian precisely because it’s avoidable. All who suffer because of Christ could quit their suffering by quitting Christ. But those who subject themselves to suffering subject themselves to Christ, who is our ultimate example of voluntarily suffering. With imitation in mind, Christians strangely fight the impulse to flee the burning house. Christians instead walk headlong into the blaze, hoping that their loved ones are somewhere nearby, consumed by flames.
The sentiment reminds me of an absolutely breathtaking meditation on Jesus' seven last words from the cross called Death on a Friday Afternoon. I think I reread it every Lent, and each time I'm struck by the beauty and humility and sacrifice and love of our Lord, magnified and intensified under the lens of Father Neuhaus' incomparable way with words. Neuhaus urges readers to enjoy his book slowly, consciously digesting the implications of what happened on that Friday afternoon, rather than rushing headlong into Easter. It's so easy to just survive Lent, quietly checking off the boxes labeled "fasting" and "abstinence" and "prayer" without spending time savoring the taste of sacrifice while we hunger for our reward.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Mt. 4:1) “If you are the son of God,” said the tempter, “command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (Mt. 4:3) Though “he was hungry,” Christ refused. Do you refuse? Or do you turn your stones into bread? Do you even have the courage to wander into the wilderness in the first place?
 Please say a prayer for me that I'll have the courage, and I'll say one for you.

1 comment:

Denys Powlett-Jones said...

Catherine, thanks for the compliments!

We here at Catholic Phoenix are huge Fr. Neuhaus fans as well.

Thanks for reading--and I will indeed say a prayer for your Lenten devotions today.