Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lent's Prosaic Thursdays

After the crowds and intense interest in Ashes yesterday, Lent today starts to settle down into whatever will be its normal pattern for the next six weeks. In Rome, today's station church is San Giorgio in Velabro. Located in a section of the city associated with the mythic infancy of Romulus and Remus, Rome's founders, the church itself has been associated with the soldier saint and martyr George since the 8th century. (The photo on the left was taken there after the early-morning English-language station Mass from two years ago.)

The connection with the soldier and martyr Saint George may account for what was the traditional Gospel account for today - Matthew's story of the Roman centurion in Capernaum who entreated Jesus to heal his seriously sick servant and whose famous words, Lord, I am not worthy, we recite at every Mass before Communion. The Missal of Paul VI broke with the ancient Lenten lectionary and assigned different daily readings to many of the Lenten weekdays, without regard to the traditional stations. So today, instead of Matthew's story of the centurion, we will be hearing Luke 9:22-25 - Jesus' first prediction of his passion, which is actually perhaps even more appropriate at the beginning of Lent (and one whose image of spiritual combat the soldier and martyr Saint George himself would likely identify with at least as much as with the story of the centurion). 

After, as it were, letting his disciples in on what was going to happen to him, Jesus in today's Gospel goes on to say to all: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?”

The distinctive "daily" in Jesus' challenge to follow him through self-denial changes what might otherwise sound like a once-in-a-lifetime giving oneself over to Jesus into an ongoing, continued commitment to discipleship experienced in the daily routine of the here and now. Undoubtedly, the challenge of discipleship can call for dramatic, dragon-slaying heroics at times, but more often it is experienced in the undramatic day-to-day struggle to align oneself with the will and plan of God. Hence, Lent lasts 40 days not just one. It's not just the poetic intensity of one Ash Wednesday but a lot of much more prosaic Thursdays.

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