When I was a kid, we watched a lot of movies. I mean A LOT. We didn’t have cable growing up, but my mom was a movie freak. To this day, I have the uncanny and kind of irritating habit of being able to quote dialogue from a few of my favorites… GhostBusters and Airplane come to mind. (You know what else is funny? My DVD/ Netflix kids will never know the wonders of “tracking” on VHS tapes.)
Randomly, I will get one of the final scenes from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” stuck in my head. It’s the scene where Indy is undergoing the trials to get to the chamber where the Holy Grail is guarded. The first obstacle is the “Breath of God,” and it involves avoiding sharp, spinning disks that were designed to decapitate unwitting treasure hunters.
So, Indy and crew just watched a poor, helpless slave of the antagonist lose his head to the spinny blades when it is decided that he would be the one to figure out the puzzle and get to the Grail (it kind of helped that the bad guys shot Indy’s dad and only water poured from the Holy Grail onto the wound could save him.) Indy’s dad, with gasping breaths, gave his son the keys to get through the obstacles… in riddle form.
Indy stares at the cobwebby cave, knowing that at any moment, sharp spinny blades were going to leap out and cut off his head. The clue his dad gave was: “The Penitent Man will pass.”
“Penitent, Penitent, The Penitent Man will Pass. Penitent…” Suddenly it comes to Indy:
“The Penitent Man is humble before God. The Penitent Man… KNEELS!”
He then dives into a forward-roll and narrowly avoids the spinny blades and emerges out on the other side to stop the trap (thus allowing others to follow behind) and heads to the second obstacle.
So, why did I tell you this whole story?
However, I couldn’t help but really wonder:
a.) If she doesn’t have to give up or add anything to her life, then why should I (and thus I questioned my own faith)?
and b.) At the end of the day, when she thinks about all the ways she came up short, she (and anyone for that matter) doesn’t have to change her behaviors because she is “saved?”
First, I have to say that I love the language that she uses to describe her emotions, especially suckerpunched, and how raw and real her question was. Faith is such a strange thing and I often wonder if I am doing it right or wrong. But in my mind, I see it this way:
Lent and the practices of Lent, including abstinence have nothing to do with salvation.
When we got our ashes yesterday, we heard one of three things:
Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return. (Gen 3:19)
Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel (Mark 1:15)
Repent and hear the good news.
We leave the church with a cross of ashes on our foreheads, declaring the beginning of a fast, not unlike Jonah to the people of the city of Ninveh (after he stopped being so stubborn… being swallowed by a fish would do that to you, I guess.) Declaring to others that the time has come to turn away from sinful ways and to turn back to God.
Prayer, almsgiving and abstinence are the actions of a penitent child of God. Prayer, almsgiving and abstinence take us out of our comfort zone and into a zone of reality.
As our bellies grumble, we unite ourselves with the people who go to sleep every night with grumbling bellies. As we fight the temptation against the chocolate, or wine, or Facebook, or soda or whatever else we’d given up, we unite ourselves with the people who fight crippling addictions every day. As we give our money, our time or our talents, we are reminded of the feasts, the bounty that we have been privileged to enjoy. And how fast we can move from feast to famine. As we kneel in prayer, we unite ourselves with the Saints who have gone before us, paving the way with prayer and devotion to the Lord, our God. We turn to God with our discomforts and open our hearts to be comforted as He only can. As we get more and more uncomfortable, we slide into a place where God’s voice can be heard and His will truly be done. Because, as we all know, when we are comfortable change cannot happen. Why would we want to change when things are just hunky-dory? Change, real change, requires a push.
Sure, many Christians and non-Christians do not feel the need to fast or abstain, or see Lent as a quaint little ancient practice held by us in the liturgical church. But I, as a fallible, sinful human, need these six weeks. I need these six weeks to remind myself to stop and refocus my life. Have I lost sight of God in my life? Have I moved God to slot 2 or 3 or 4 in the levels of importance? Am I still doing God’s will or have I shifted priorities to my will? Have I become focused on ME rather than WE? You see, by participating in six weeks of abstinence, prayer and almsgiving, I humble my very prideful self before the Lord and unite with my fellow men. I may be saved, but I still screw up. Lent reminds me that just because I am saved does not mean that I am above the Grace of God. By getting uncomfortable, we unite with the other members of the Body of Christ… even the ones we find unmentionable or unlikable or disdainful.
Lent and the practices of Lent, including abstinence have nothing to do with salvation. However, they do cause its practitioners to draw closer and nearer to out God.
Besides, if fasting was good enough for Jesus, wouldn’t it be good enough for me?
Special Intentions of Pope Benedict XVI (from the back of The Word Among Us, handed out at our Parish for Lent)
Dear Heavenly Father,
During this holy season of Lent, we pray in gratitude for women throughout every land. Lord, may the whole world recognize the genuine contribution of women to the development of society.
We also pray for all persecuted Christians. Father, may your Holy Spirit grant these brothers and sisters the perseverance that they need as they endure discrimination, persecution, or death for the name of Christ. We particularly pray for persecuted Christians in Asia
Please continue to pray for my friend Kim E. On Feb. 18, at an American Heart Association fundraiser, she went into Cardiac Arrest and was rushed to the hospital. She is a wife to Tony, and mom to three littles (Isaiah, Elijah and Trinity) and underwent heart surgery 4 months ago.