Traditions can be big or small, important and not. Not all traditions are created equal. If each one of us are to be a person faithful to Gods’ eternal covenant in Christ; if we are to be a church faithful to that covenant, then we must be a people who remember rightly and hold onto the Traditions that go to the heart of faith, the heart of the covenant.
There are lots of church traditions that come and go. They are good for a time because they help the faithful of that time, but in time, they lose their ability to draw people close to the heart of the covenant. But ashes, alms giving, prayer and fasting – these things have been present in the ages before Christ and in the millennia since. It is the experience of the Church that these traditions of Lent help move people to the embrace of family that God is building up through these successive covenants.
On an Ash Wednesday past, one person approached me and wanted to know why we had made up a new blessing for giving ashes, “What’s wrong with you Franciscans, aren’t the traditions of the Church good enough for you.” She was asking why we didn’t use the “ashes to ashes” blessings. She explained it was important that people remember they are nothing, nothing but a pile of dust, corrupt, sinful, and not worthy of such a savior. That is what she remembered. But has she remembered rightly? She wanted to know where this “Repent and believe in the Gospel” came from. In my best deadpan, I replied, “the Gospel according to Mark 1:15 and then designated for use by the Roman Missal for the Ash Wednesday liturgy.” I don’t exactly recall what she said – memory has been fused with the reruns of SNL – all I can now picture is Gilda Radner saying, “Never, mind.” I wish the woman had stayed and had been interested in discussing the richness of our Lenten traditions of ashes, alms, prayer, and fasting.
Here is a question for you. The traditions of ashes, alms giving, prayer, and fasting – how do they go the heart of faith and the heart of the Covenant? Or put another way, are these things drawing you closer to God? And maybe the answer is “not really…” – which is OK for an answer but only if it leads you to ask “Why not?”
We are all called to “remember rightly” in our celebration of Lent.