Lent challenges us to have courage … to be servants of the community, more than ourselves
“Into the valley of death rode the six hundred…” The Charge of the Light Brigade(1855); Lord Tennyson: on the 1854 suicidal charge, by the British, against the Russians in the Crimea.
This is one of the few lines of poetry I can still recall from high school (1978/79). For some reason it came to mind as I reflected on the readings and the concept of LENT.
Regardless of whether the battle was well planned or necessary, this battle elevated the status of the British Light Calvary: they were brave soldiers who faced danger without running away. They thought they were protecting the well-being of their country: my life is not about me. They felt good about themselves, and received praise, for their service of the community.
As we study the very short Gospel of Mark, we learn: the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert: Jesus was tempted by the devil and lived among wild beasts: an initiation for Jesus the man: and an example for us: a period of isolation; reflection; learning to struggle against the self;
God came in the flesh like man in every way, but sin: for a healthy community, every boy must undergo an initiation: initiation empowers a boy so that, as a man, he will use the power given to him, to serve the community and not himself: my life is not about me.
The initiation program/ period emphasises elements of hardship, silence and listening to the elders. According to Fr Richard Rohr OFM, who studied initiation programs all over the world, every initiation rite he encountered also involved some painful body modification that drew blood (eg. scaring of the skin, circumcision, knocking out certain teeth, etc.).
The purpose of the pain was to prepare the young men for real life, and teach them that pain will not kill them as they endure to be successful warriors and providers for the community.
Perhaps this is the reason for LENT. We can talk forever about sin and turning around to be good little boys/ girls once more, but that focuses attention on myself: what’s the point?
Perhaps, if we stop and reflect on the reason for initiation, it may help us see that the ultimate reason for being good little boys/ girls is to protect and ensure the well-being of the community.
The sins we are often most pre-occupied about reflect some form of selfishness in our daily lives, which diverts our attention from the well-being of the wider family/ community.
One of the great steps forward by Vatican II in the 1960’s was the shift in focus from personal sins to our corporate sins: those actions which our whole society inflicts on other people; or ignores the needs of groups within our wider community: the vulnerable people on low wages, lack of access to proper medical care, lack of education, transport options, etc.
Sometimes we so-called religious people, focus too much on rigid adherence to rules and attendance at Mass, rather than noticing the great good that has been done by people not following the “rules.” Not long after Vatican II, about 1974 in Australia as an example, universal healthcare was introduced in Australia. This was a great step forward but not often seen as a religious act; but I do believe it was one of the fruits our religious up-bringing.
All around the world, over the last 50 years, there’ve been many steps forward in humanitarian care for all members of society, protection for refugees and concern for poorer countries. Of course, there have also been massive failures along the way.
Perhaps LENT, this year, can be for us, a renewed focus on what am I doing to serve the community? We have our jobs which support the economy; but what else are we doing?
Do we see, and speak about, community groups that are struggling? Or do we leave that for other people to speak about? It’s important to say often: if we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.
I believe it was John Paul II who said: no one is so poor he cannot give something, and no one is so rich that he cannot receive something. Can we not say the same about our community life: no one is so dumb that they have nothing to suggest, and no one is so smart that they cannot listen and learn from others.
After watching the documentary the Social Dilemma recently, perhaps the best thing we can do for LENT is to give up Social Media for one day per week and see how we feel?
Social media addiction is hurting us; and especially our youth, before they’ve had time to start a normal life developing real face to face relationships.
So, let us place ourselves in “danger”, trusting that God will protect us by the angels around us, as we speak up and act to serve our neighbour; as the Response today says:
Your ways, O Lord, are love and truth to those who keep your covenant.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI