By Benjamin Guyer
If you live comfortably in the developed world, you need Lent more than you know. Of all the seasons in the Church’s calendar, none preaches more forcefully against bourgeois complacency. Lent spurns contentment, celebrates self-discipline, and sanctifies self-knowledge. We all need Lent more than we know.
Sadly, too many clergy are confused — or worse, lazy. They coddle their parishioners with the false comfort that taking something on for Lent is equivalent to giving something up. But I tell you the truth: in the so-called first world, we are already guilty of overconsumption. If Lent becomes yet another opportunity to consume still more, it will only be lost amid habits long cultivated by unbridled appetites.
Do not celebrate Lent for the wrong reason! Still others claim that during Lent we may direct our activities to other ends, such as environmental stewardship or charitable deeds. But these are good if and only if they so force us out of our comfort zones that we begin to recognize how our desires rebel against our commitments. Only then will the words of the Apostle become our own: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Only then can we cry out with the same, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:15, 24). If you have never pleaded before God with this question, you know neither yourself nor the Lord.
Some will bristle at these words. And yet the liturgy for Ash Wednesday instructs us, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent is not about resurrection but sin and mortality. Lent is the lament of creation; it is an unfinished melody, vitiated and tattered and torn. Easter is not the culmination of Lent but the beginning of something new, an unflinching interruption by divine fiat. But we who are human need contrasts. We understand light only after we have known darkness. If we cannot — or, if we will not — live into this season, how can we truly know what comes after?
You need Lent. I need Lent. Let us humble ourselves and come to know better our mortality, our finitude, our waywardness, and our rebellion. Clergy in particular: don’t apologize for Lent! It will not apologize for you.