On 2 March 2002 was Ash Wednesday. Mass is usually observed on this date. In school, there was an Ash Wednesday mass and as a result, all students would have a black mark on their heads. The placing of ashes on our foreheads is a reminder that from dust we came, and from dust we shall return. This year, I wasn’t aware of our local church’s Mass. Ash Wednesday officially marks the start of Lent. The latter is an annual forty-day period that worshippers around the world observe. The list includes Catholics, Anglicans, and many Christian denominations.
Fasting for Lent
The main thrusts of the Lenten season is three-fold: fasting, abstinence, and penitence. All Christian adults are encouraged to fast. I remember in uni, I was invited to take part in this fory-hour fasting. I thought that it was too extreme. Meanwhile, abstinence is about giving up smoething for the entirety of Lent. It is about sticking to a goal as a pledge of devotion to God. The object of this abstinence is up to you. However, one must note that it must be something tangible, whether big or small is up to you. It could be as simple as avoiding fizzy drinks or refraining from buying new books. It could also be as consequential as avoiding alcohol or gambling. I remember in school, my classmates asked our Religion teacher how to fast during Fridays.
‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and supper like a pauper,’ Sister Isa replied.
Tied with abstinence is penitence. Worshippers are pursuaded to pray and to confess their sins. Moreover, they are urged to repent for their sins. Almsgiving, a simple livelihood, and a denial of self-interests are just some of the exercises interweaved with the season. In the Catholic Church, the priests were violet sashes for Lent. Lent remembers the forty days that Jesus spent wandering in the desert. The devil tempted Him and tried to lead Him astray by offering material wealth, nourishment, and by buying his happiness. Jesus though was a man on a mission and His faith never wavered. Through his reflections, He gained much insight. His diligence enabled Him to build our Church today.
Sepaking for school, I noted how some vain batchmates would remove the ashes from their forehead. The eateries would also abstain from serving meat. They opted instead for some fish and vegetarian dishes. Holy week is notable as there was a mad rush to exit Manila prior to Semana Santa. Seeing the traffic chaos on TV, it reminded me of a stampede as fans leaving a crowded gym. Then, on Good Friday, the whole stadium is deserted. It was like an apocalyptic scene from a zombie film. Another analogous occasion was when Manny Pacquaio’s fights were on. During those days, the crime rate in the whole country was almost nil, if not zero.
I remember we had a palmera tree in our front yard. The two shrubs were located adjacent to the grotto. Every year, Lola Paz would get the leaves for Palm Sunday. According to her, this had been a long tradition that had transpired even with the previous owner.
Good Friday is notable for featuring the Stations of the Cross. These fourteen scenes depict Christ’s suffering from his denouncement by Pilate to his crucifiction and entombment. In Year 8, I recall having to present one of these Stations. I came unprepared. Everyone read from their notes out front. My female seatmates had anticipated a letdown. I put it together though and spontaneously delivered a short but riveting description. I got an ovation and even Sister Isa was impressed. Friday is also known as seafood central. The Sydney Fish Market is open very early. Meanwhile, most shops, restaurants, and services are closed on Good Friday.
As portrayed in the media, Lent concludes with a giant celebration for Easter. There are easter bunnies to give chocs to the kiddos. The Easter Show is the hottest ticket in town, showcasing the best food, talent, animals, and showbags. The Sunday service is packed to the rafters. Christmas would be the only one that approaches this turnout. The malls are hawking big discounts. There are all sorts of online bargains. In Australia, it’s the middle of autumn and the weather is mild and pleasant. In the Philippines, summer is in full swing. You would need a fan or two.
More importantly, like the Yuletide season, Easter is a time to be with our families. Once you’ve done the marathon, fasted and did your penance, you must apply those lessons and grow in faith, charity, and love. Being a better Christian is more than just spending more time with God. Quantity is nice, but a quality relationship with Yahweh is even better. Being an acolyte or a deacon doesn’t guaratee your spot in heaven. Doing good things and being a righteous person are what counts. So, next time you go through Lent, ask yourself. Are you doing this to score points or are you genuinely aiming for progress?