BY ELIZABETH McKENZIE
Lent in my childhood in Ireland was unremittingly bleak. No sweets, comics, sponge cake from our favourite sponge cake shop.
No TV in Holy Week – after the household rather had belatedly acquired a TV set – as well as no weekly film excursions to see the latest Western. Added to these deprivations were other penitential requirements – daily Mass at 7.30 am during the cold, dark, wet, damp days of the northern Spring, and resolutions which, unlike New Year resolutions, were expected to be observed.
Usually such resolutions were about giving something up. In the course of my Lenten life I have given up a huge range of lollies, milk and sugar in my tea, sponge cakes, sweet biscuits, beer, red wine and black olives.
Some of these goodies were retrieved and reinserted into every day living on Easter morning along with chocolate eggs, saved sweets in jars, a six-week backlog of comics etc but some have remained to this day expurgated from my lifestyle.
I’m sure comfort and happiness were not totally excised from our lives but the point of Lent seemed to be to endure a kind of draconian self-sacrifice for a very long six weeks. If there was anything to be gained from the regimen, either physically or spiritually, it was not immediately obvious. Indeed the opposite was the case. If you did not suffer in this life – and Lent provided that opportunity – then sure as Hades, you’d suffer in the next!
Coming to Australia – and Vatican II – coalesced in my life journey, so Lent in Australia never had the same pejorative overlay it had in my country of birth. For a start, the weather was warm, with pleasant balmy early Autumn mornings.
The variety of fresh food and vegetables was so enticing and fulfilling that I managed to stack on several extra kilos without the aid of a sponge cake shop.
Giving up food items was no longer a Lenten prerogative as various diets were tried and found wanting. Fasting as such lost its meaning. Even ‘giving up’ calorific goodies for Lent had an ulterior motive/dual purpose!
And there was, in any event, a new approach to Lent. Depriving oneself of everyday comforts was no longer de rigueur. It was optional of course but only as a means to an end – not an end in itself.
Lent assumed a much more positive image. It was to be a time of reflection, of nurturing our spirituality, of assessing our talents as well as our sins. The time frame, scripture readings, even accommodating small acts of self-denial, were useful only in so far as they focussed our minds and hearts on metanoia, a far more palatable, softer connotation of repentance than the one thundered at us from the pulpits of our childhood.
Rather than ‘giving up’, we were expected to give our time and attention to matters spiritual (and to Project Compassion). Lent was and still is an opportunity to reassess our spiritual journey, to tweak aspects of our lifestyle to be more in keeping with the coming of the kingdom. But most importantly, it gives us the opportunity to prepare for the point of it all – the celebration of the Resurrection.
Elizabeth McKenzie is editor of the Tinteán magazine of the Australian Irish Heritage Network.
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