By the time you read this, we shall be half way through the period of Lent. By tradition, this is when the Church remembers the forty days that Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted. This year it started on 18th February, which was Ash Wednesday.
In days long ago, people took Lent very seriously. It was a time of great self-denial – unike when we abstain from eating chocolate for forty days as a token. That may be good for the waistline but not very beneficial for the soul!
Pancake Day (or Shrove Tuesday) was quite a feast day, when all the little luxuries in the home were consumed, ready for the forty days of meagre fayre.
On Palm Sunday, people often had crosses given to them. These were kept in a prominent place as a reminder of the cost of salvation, until they were ceremonially burned on Ash Wednesday. The ash was then marked as a cross on the forehead by the priest to remind them to bear their cross of self-denial as they kept watch with Jesus in His wilderness experience.
It was exceedingly meaningful in those days, when life was pretty frugal at the best of times. They had no supermarkets stuffed full of every delight. Their diet was plain, unappetising and not very nutritious. So Lent meant tightening the belt some further notches.
Our devout Muslim cousins have Ramadan when they do not eat during daylight hours – this happens in the summer when the days are long! Our Jewish cousins keep Shabbat (Sabbath) with some real fanaticism.
Our religious devotion is very peripheral; it does not make much impact on our daily lives. I am not sure that this is good for us. It seems to smack of the easy-going, ‘take it or leave it’, self-indulgent society in which we live.
What did St Paul say about not being conformed to this world?