by V. Rev. Fr. James Rosselli
Twice a year, the Church observes 40-day periods which permit us to take a vacation from the excuses we ordinarily make to ourselves and claim the freedom to be, frankly and unapologetically, seekers of holiness.
This is pretty embarrassing stuff, most of the time. After all, how many people at your office walk around murmuring the Jesus Prayer all day? How many business lunches have you attended where everybody orders lentil soup and water? In truth, how many opportunities does one get in the normal course of life to engage in self-sacrifice, without looking unacceptably weird?
In Lent. however, all that is turned around. We can get away with almost anything! Conversations that tend to go one way at most times can go in whole different directions.
Outside of Lent:
Harry: “Hey, Bob, did you see Sexually Desperate Survivors in the City last night?
Bob: “Sorry, Harry, I don’t watch TV.”
Harry: “What are you some kind of religious nut? What’s next? You gonna go hijack a plane?”
In Lent, however, it might go something like this:
Harry: “Hey, you wanna go out for a steak and a brew after work?”
Bob: “Sorry, Harry, I’m giving that up for Lent.”
Harry: “What are you, kidding?”
Bob: “No, I’m really giving those up for Lent.”
Harry: “Wow!” (pause) “Hey, Bob, could you give me some advice about…”
See? Lent brings heroic stature to acts of mental, physical and spiritual health that at other times simply come off as blue-nosed prudishness.
On the other hand, what’s wrong with blue-nosed prudishness? Can’t I take the odd occasion to not indulge myself? Is there a law telling me I have to sit staring at a box for hours, filling my mind with garbage? If someone should pass my office door sometime after Pascha and find me crossing myself, even if all the vampires are out having lunch, am I the one who needs to feel funny, if it doesn’t go over?
Lent gets us into habits of holiness. It gets us used to separating ourselves from the values and behaviors of the kingdom of Mammon, and more in practice about being an ambassador for the Kingdom of God. Additionally, it gives the people around us an opportunity to “get used to” us as Christians—which might well result in an occasion somewhere down the road to bring Christ into a conversation, and maybe win a new soul for the Kingdom of God.
Not a bad way to spend the rest of the year, come to think of it!
Fr. Jim is a mitred archpriest with the Community of the Holy Spirit, UAOC.