I am trying to help our border collie become more liturgically literate! As astute as she is, Abby doesn’t quite get “Lent.” Now of course there are those purists who will remind me that “technically” dogs, lacking human reasoning and some even claim lacking a soul – seriously – are not capable of sin, and therefore have no need to understand the notion of “repentance.” To my critics I would respectfully provide anecdotal evidence: this dog may or may not have an intellectual grasp of the concept of “sin,” but she knows how to lie, disobey, steal, be willful , stubborn and insistent on rolling around in any batch of disgustingly smelling biological materials found on the ground! I’ll let our esteemed attorneys of our parish debate this one, but this seems a matter of Res Ipsa loqutur - whose non technical real life definition might read: “if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…” – well you get the point.
So I try to explain to “her majesty” that in the early church, as folks were preparing for the great celebration of Easter – the most significant feast we Christians celebrate – there were three portions of the community that began to prepare themselves in a very special way.
There are the majority of us whose lives are marked by our normal human frailties. There are “the things we’ve done and the things we’ve left undone.” All of us need to take stock of our lives from time to time and seek the Lord’s strength and forgiveness.
Secondly there were those who were preparing to be baptized by the Bishop on the Eve of Easter. They had spent years in study and prayer. Now they spent the final forty days in serious preparation, fasting and seeking the prayers of the community that they were, sometimes at the risk of their lives during times of persecution, about to enter.
Finally there were those who because of their notorious and extremely grievous sins (in the early centuries of the church’s history, you find lists of such things like abandoning the Christian faith out of cowardice, murder, adultery, being married more than once, worshiping Caesar among others) had been spending perhaps years doing public penance: living lives of prayer, fasting and giving to charity and seeking the forgiveness of the community and of Jesus. They also were now in the last forty days of their time as “public” penitents before being allowed to rejoin the community.
And thus that final season of the Spirit, “Lent,” was born. It was a time when all three of these groups - and they are us, are they not – came together in prayer and action -- So all Christians (and those who wished to be) spent the final weeks together in preparation to become one with the Risen Christ and the community reborn from and nourished in His spirit.
So try explaining all this to Abby. She would rather play – of course. She would rather race in March snowstorms as she shadows (in the hopes of herding) the deer that pass through the yard. Perhaps she instinctively knows that she is not held to the human standard. She is not capable of change and of repentance. But we are. Perhaps she is of the mindset that as long as I “give up” something that I may enjoy but certainly don’t need anyway (alcohol, movies, chocolate, TV or whatever), I’ve done enough. She was not made to deal with the deeper questions: what is there in my life that really, for heaven’s sake, needs to go? Where can I grow and should I grow in my spiritual life? What is God really calling me to do? How can I be more generous? How can I learn more about His word in Holy Scripture?
Abby, imperfect as she is, does live her life giving love and receiving it. And she is where God wants her to be. But what about us? Where are we in terms of the spiritual life? And how may these forty days bring us closer to the one who died and rose for us?