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Lent and a spirituality of resistance.

O On Ash Wednesday, the Catholic community gathers and processes forward after the homily to be signed with ashes, a custom that goes back to 1091 when Pope Urban II ordered the faithful to accept ashes as a sign of penance. On this first day of Lent, the church publicly begins a season of life-giving conversion sustained by the pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We accept and display ashes as an outward sign that we will seriously seek conversion and a change of life that will be more centered on the supreme Gospel values, love of God and neighbor.

Ash Wednesday awakens me to the fact that I wear so many signs the other 364 days of the year that label me not as a Christian but rather as a conspicuous consumer. The labels on our clothing, the make of car we drive, the size of house we build are signs that validate our success and worth.

LENT 2005

The powerful advertising media portrays us in a fallen state. We are not exciting, successful, adventurous, youthful until we have their product--then we will be transformed, saved and successful. We are redeemed. Buy and be saved!

"To consume," as it is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, means "to destroy by or like fire." A "consumer," then, is "a person who squanders, destroys or uses up." This older definition of "consume" implies disorder, disease. Our rapacious consumer patterns exploit with abandon our precious earthly resources and are destroying our fragile ecosystems at an unprecedented rate.

Industrial countries have about 25 percent of the world's population but use about 80 percent of its energy. According to Mark Hertsgaard in his book Earth Odyssey, a baby born in the United States creates 13 times as much environmental damage over the course of a lifetime as a baby born in Brazil. Thus a family in North America with two children has the Brazilian equivalent of 26 children. Human activity is causing climate change that over the next 50 years is expected to drive a quarter of land animals and plants to extinction.

The scriptures of Lent challenge us to return to God and the needs of our neighbors in the global family. In a few weeks at daily Mass we will read from the prophet Micah, who in his prophetic book tells us "to love tenderly," which can mean feeling compassion for all living creatures on this earth; "to live justly," which can mean choosing to put our lifestyles in line with the needs of others in our human family and our environment; and "to walk humbly with our God," which can mean removing ourselves from the center of the universe.

Hosea, whose words we hear during some of the Lenten weekdays at the beginning of March, describes the desert as a place of "graced wilderness," a place where God can "speak to our hearts." Lent is our time of "graced wilderness." In the stark desert of Lent, we can get to the bone and marrow of Jesus' teachings about simple living and refocus on what is essential in our relationship with our God and each other and nature. The call of our God is not an admonition, but rather an allurement by the "Loving One" who desires that we give full attention to the prompting of the Spirit.

This Lent can be for us the beginning of a spirituality of resistance. A counterculture practice of resisting the impulse to buy more, use more, spend more and work more. We can make Sunday truly a Sabbath day of rest, leisure and play instead of shopping or catching up on our work. We can practice a spiritual act of resistance by turning away from television and instead turn toward each other in conversation or share a meal together in celebration.

As we see in the Gospel for the First Sunday of Lent, in the desert Jesus successfully resisted the Tempter's lure of power and stones-to-bread fame. He emerged from his trials strong in the Spirit for his mission. Perhaps this Lent we too will emerge with a stronger Christian identity, steadfast in our resolve against the tempters of the marketing world who will appear before us on our television screens, in catalogs and on billboards, attempting to shape us into their false images of success and status through use of their consumer manna.

Perhaps the spirituality of resistance will enable us to live the Gospel more radically and to take stock of our ecological footprint on this globe. A spirituality of resistance can extend beyond the 40 days of Lent into a future dedicated to simple living and walking lightly on the earth. This Lent, then, may we listen well, pray devoutly and live a new life not based on what we waste and wear but rather on what the cross of ashes signified when we began our Lenten journey.

[Fr. Rich Broderick ministers in faith communities in Guatemala and in the diocese of Albany, N.Y. He is the author of The Leather Tramp Journal, published by Ave Maria Press.]
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Author:Broderick, Rich
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 11, 2005
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