Monday, March 24, 2014

We Forget, We Forget, We Forget

‘Christ is risen and life reigneth! Christ is risen and not one dead remains in the grave!’ Such is the faith of the Church, affirmed and made evident by her countless saints. Is it not our daily experience, however, that this faith is very seldom ours, that all the time we lose and betray the ‘new life’ which we received as a gift, and that in fact we live as if Christ did not rise from the dead, as if that unique event had no meaning whatsoever for us?

All this because of our weakness, because of the impossibility for us to live constantly by ‘faith, hope, and love’ on that level to which Christ raised us when He said: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” We simply forget all this—so busy are we, so immersed in our daily preoccupations—and because we forget, we fail.

And though this forgetfulness, failure, and sin, our life becomes ‘old’ again—petty, dark, and ultimately meaningless—a meaningless journey toward a meaningless end. We manage to forget even death and then, all of a sudden, in the midst of our ‘enjoying life’ it comes to us: horrible, inescapable, senseless. We may from time to time acknowledge and confess our various ‘sins’, yet we cease to refer our life to that new life which Christ revealed and gave to us. Indeed, we live as if He never came. This is the only real sin, the bottomless sadness and tragedy of our nominal Christianity.
Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent

Reflection – Greetings from sunny (and rather cold) Bruno SK, on the wide open Canadian prairies. I arrived late Saturday evening, and began the course yesterday evening. St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission is a wonderful place, filled with young people of faith and keenness—I am very impressed with the work of formation they are doing here.

Meanwhile, I thought I would continue our Lenten reflection on this blog with a few excerpts from the book Great Lent by Alexander Schmemann. This book is one of the Madonna House classics—for years we have read excerpts of it at our post-lunch spiritual reading.

This excerpt is from his introduction, where he outlines that the point of Lent—the whole and sole point of this season—is Easter. We do not engage in Lenten disciplines of fasting and penance, austerity and sobriety of life, just to make ourselves unhappy for a space of time, so that we can enjoy life again come Easter Sunday.

Nor is Easter simply ‘permission to eat chocolate time again!’ The whole annual cycle of Easter and the Lenten fast that precedes it is meant to plunge us into the reality, the real, hard core of reality of life, which is the Paschal Mystery, God penetrating our human condition to its darkest and most tragic depths, and in that radiating life and hope and joy that is stronger than those deathly depths.

We need to be plunged into it periodically, in the time and space we call the liturgical year, for the simple reason Schmemann points out here, a reason that I think any reasonably reflective Christian is well aware of.

We forget. Some of the monastic fathers of the Eastern Church count forgetfulness among the deadly sins that afflict humanity. We forget, we forget, we forget. We receive a grace of faith, an experience of God, a time of conversion, a season of joy and light in our lives… and then it slips away from us.

Life happens. Hard seasons succeed the more pleasant ones. Times of labor and strain, heartache and hard work, ‘busyness’ (that modern bugaboo)… and we forget. We forget that Christ is risen and that his resurrection is our life. His death is our hope. His glory is our glorification.

Instead, ‘we live as if He never came.’ And in that living, we attach ourselves to all sorts of created consolations: food, drink, sex, money, diversions and distractions, and all sorts of other things. And so, Lent, leading to Easter. To detach ourselves from whatever we have deemed we need to be detached from, not for the sake of detachment, but to attach ourselves more profoundly, more joyously, more faithfully—to Christ.

I am well aware from my 47 years of Lents that it is around week 3 that the Lenten discipline starts to really wear on us. Easter still seems a long way off; it seems to have been Lent for a long time already. So it is good to refocus on what it is we are doing here, what the point of it all is, why we are bothering to struggle with our appetites and lack of self-control. And that is what I will be writing about this week, for the most part.

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