Today is Shrove Tuesday, tomorrow Ash Wednesday, the traditional beginning of Lent.
I must confess, it being Shrove Tuesday, that I have a mixed relationship with Lent. When I was younger—oh so many years ago!-I would give something up, thinking that doing without something would make me a better, perhaps even holier person. I don’t believe that any more. Too much of the Christian tradition has absorbed the belief that suffering is somehow redemptive. Paul talks how suffering is a gift: from Romans 5.4: we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” That was written a long time ago, under very different circumstances, and in a very different world.
What I understand from reading the Gospels is that the Jesus of the cross would say there is enough suffering in the world. I think he might say that suffering should not be an end to itself, but that which is truly important is loving. Hate makes two persons suffer: the one to whom the hate is directed, and the one doing the hating. Not loving myself inevitably leads to not loving my neighbour. And isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do?
Some years ago it was trendy in mainstream faith to take up something for Lent. Why just for Lent? Why not every season and moment of our lives? Forward to the place where Jesus suffered, the place of the skull.