As a birthday gift my wife received a subscription to The Word Among Us, which is “a Catholic devotional magazine based on the daily Mass readings”.
As we rode to work together, she read the readings and meditation for today, Ash Wednesday. The meditation offered the analogy of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly: “If only we could enter a magical chrysalis and emerge six weeks later as a reflection of God’s beauty and grace!”
“Of course,” they caution, “we know it’s not magic. It’s a combination of God’s grace and our effort. … So here are some things we can try to do this season so that we can find our lives changed come Easter Sunday. ”
The suggestions include prayerfully considering “what you want to become”; finding a “chrysalis”, i.e. time set aside each day for prayer; and “living your new life”, which means to “[r]earrange your priorities as if you already were that butterfly”.
Notice anything about this?
How about no mention of penance or sin? That’s right, an Ash Wednesday meditation having nothing to do with repentance, fasting, or self-denial, whatsoever. Something similar happened the last time I attended Ash Wednesday Mass: The homily managed to ignore the topics of sin and repentance entirely.
At times like this I am tempted to despair; tempted to say, with Hilary White, “Welcome to NuChurch“. I try to believe that the Church hasn’t gone off the rails since Vatican II. I have reminded myself, and others, that the Church has not changed any doctrines to accommodate the demands of secular culture. But I sometimes wonder, what’s the use in having the infallible fullness of the Gospel if half of it is never preached?
In case anyone really doesn’t know what Lent is for, it is defined in the Catechism as “the primary penitential season in the Church’s liturgical year, reflecting the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in fasting and prayer.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary.
Further, “The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year … are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).” Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1438.