WE ARE ENTERING the last week of the 2018 Lenten season and Easter is just another Sunday away. The question here is not ‘when exactly does Lent end’? Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday? Some even say morning of Easter.Too many of us Catholics are in the laughable habit of moonlighting at Pentecostal joints that we have become confused about our ways and traditions. In the event that one is in that league, be reminded that Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday; the Triduum is a Liturgical Season of its own, bridging Lenten and  Easter Seasons.

Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, which can be as early as the fifth day of the shortest month of the year, and as late as the tenth day of March. An interesting coincidence this year was Valentine’s Day falling on Ash Wednesday. Many Catholics stood conflicted, particularly those in the convenient habit of embracing that which makes us comfortable while disavowing that which invites us to sacrifice regarding the faith. To go Valentine’s Day- partying all evening, once they get the ashes on their forehead, or to sacrifice one for the other?

Some bishops assisted the faithful in making a distinction, and in resolving the conflict. Those bishops issued pastoral advisoryurging the faithful to observe Ash Wednesday as they ought to, and to celebrate Valentine’s Day on any other day that they find convenient. Past and recurring admonitions by Bishop Badejo that there is “Lent in Valentine” became more meaningful this year. In any case, can one separate love from denial? The basis of voluntary self-denial is love, for there is no greater love than the ultimate sacrifice:  “that a man lays down his life for his friends”

All told, the turnout this year for Ash Wednesday at my parish Church was way down from last year’s figures. Yet they came in large numbers; they will return for Easter Vigil, and for Christmas Eve. They love Christ and His Church as much as anyone else, but the expression of that love is compromised by various distractions of modern day life. Who are they? All of us, except very few. We are all involved; we are compromised by the pursuit of worldly desires, by the primacy of self, the adulation and  ruinous attraction to things material, and the glorification of their possessor, no matter how acquired. Thankfully, we have a God of endless second chances; a creator whose mercies surpass all understanding. Otherwise what is our hope?

Our attitude to Lent is a reflection of the totality of our response to divine invitation to redemption. We love the ashes, the outward sign of inward grief for our sins, and an acceptance of our nothingness – “Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return”. We carry the ashes around as a mark of “piety” often without living the true meaning. The very day we are reminded that we are dust; we resume our endearment to self- promotion. The griefs we proclaim hardly touch our hearts, and rarely move us to authentic Christian living.

We start lent committed to giving up the most damning of our excesses or frivolities; I give up alcohol for this year’s Lent’; ‘I give up sugar’; ‘No meat, no chicken’. Or ‘I will attend Daily Mass throughout the Lenten period’. Just like New Year resolutions, these commitments are kept for a few days before we start finding the inner strength to water them down, modify them, reduce them or outrightly jettison them. By the first Sunday of Lent, a mere four days from Ash Wednesday, we are halfway back to where we used to be- bereft of all desire for amends. The Stations of the Cross is considered a burden and the countdown begins; How many days to Easter?Almost as if looking forward to a release from bondage.

Today, Palm Sunday, our devotion is revived, a rehearsal for next week’s big event. We sing Hosanna Filio David as sonorously as Giovanni Vianini, but with scant reflection on what Rex Israel went through.

Next Sunday is Easter, perhaps the biggest day in Christendom. The sanctuaries will be filled to overflow. Regular worshippers will look right and left, back and front, up to four rows deep in each direction, and hardly recognize any of the faces that have suddenly discovered the way to the parish Church. Never mind, you will see their number again at Christmas. Fada has to do overtime to distribute communion to the multitude. His homily is ever so welcoming; he receives all with kind words; never condemning the lost sheep found, the prodigal sons come back home.

You don’t have to look for them because they will be all over the place. The CWO Chairperson, CMO  Chairman, youth president, legion of Mary officials- all busy recruiting new members, writing down names and phone numbers of prospective new members, not minding that the list of 476 from last year yielded only two recruits. But their labour is not in vain. They are the lifeline of the New Evangelization in a world held in a bear hug by the greed of its inhabitants.

In spite of all these, the Church continues to grow, vocations increase, and the word preached to many more people in many more corners of the earth. That is the doing of the One upon whose words and whose promise we stand.

When you see your priest this week, please say a kind word to him.

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