‘Lent is not for the fey. That is because Christianity is not for them, either. Sentimentalists who are Catholics on their own jerry-built terms have no place for Lent. Cafeteria Catholicism, their fast-food version of the heavenly banquet, is neither feast nor fast. Its pastiche of Catholicism has become an anthropological vignette whose day is already past. The felt banners and ceramic butterflies that replaced crucifixes in the late 1960s and 1970s are fading away to the land of kitsch - detritus of the liturgical Martha Stewarts of their day.
I live in the middle of Manhattan, where Ash Wednesday is perhaps the most popular religious day of the year... Thousands come to the Catholic Churches for ashes, many without full knowledge of what the ritual really is but as least palpably aware that we are dust. Even the bulimic syntax of the English translation of the rite cannot rob our sense of mortality of a pathetic majesty. We are an Easter people, and, as Saint Augustine was wont to say, Alleluia is our song. But without confession of our many morbid betrayals of the living God, the song becomes a ditty, and instead of the scarred bishops calling the people to repentance as at Nicaea, the Paschal landscape is festooned with harmless adults dressed as rabbits hiding eggs from bewildered children.
Thomas Merton recalled in The Seven Storey Mountain that before he became a Catholic, his Easter consisted of an abbreviated service of Morning Prayer followed by an egg hunt on a manicured lawn. Such Easters are like the festivals in the twilight of imperial Rome when, as Suetonius records, the great men spoke of the gods but secretly consulted the stars. Some have so lost confidence in the Resurrection of Christ that they keep little of Lent at all. There are places where there are Ash Wednesday and Easter and in between an extended Saint Patrick’s Day. Great Patrick would be the first to cry out against their from the heights of Croagh Patrick, his fasting place for all forty days.
One could go to the other extreme and think of Easter as merely an interruption of a yearlong Lent. That is the piety of the rigourist for whom every silver lining has a cloud. Worse, there are certain Catholic types with the mottled spiritual complexion of the Jansenist nuns of Port Royal, who were “pure as angels and proud as devils”. Patrick lit a Paschal fire, not a Lenten fire. All his fasts were for the feasts ahead, and he knew that fasting is not only for the self, since in the Christian community one also fasts for the dead.
First, fast to starve the devil, then feast with the saints’.
from He Spoke to Us: Discerning God in People and Places, 2016, by Fr George William Rutler
Fr Lee Kenyon