I am in awe of the profound thought that has gone into the development of our liturgical year and the readings from Scripture that guide it. Today’s readings have been a challenge for me. The first, from Sirach about being judged by our words gives me pause. But the Psalm which follows gives me courage: “In old age they still produce fruit.” At age 80 I am grateful for the opportunity to share my reflections on the rich history of our faith.
The reading from St. Paul is fitting for the Sunday before the beginning of Lent. He writes, “Death has been swallowed up in victory!” This coming week includes Mardi Gras, a celebration outside the Liturgy expressing a very human reaction to the fact of death: “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Rather, “tomorrow”, Ash Wednesday, we wear on our foreheads a reminder of death, the curse given to Adam at his expulsion from Eden.
This morning I sent a prayer to St. Christopher as I took my Jeep out onto the street to go buy a Sunday newspaper. I know the theologians have told us there is no such saint, but I know, and I believe, the early Christians knew that St. Christopher was originally one of the ancient pantheon. He was the one who guided people across the River Styx, that is, the great river dividing Earth from the heavens. When the early Christians “baptized” St Christopher (Greek for “Bearer of Christ”) and said that he carried Christ across the River, they affirmed that Christ really died for us. Through the centuries Christians recognized that when we go on a journey, we experience a kind of death: we leave our old life behind and go on to something new.
Some moments in life are more momentous than others. We also experience a kind of death at those moments–we leave behind what went before and go on to a new part of our life. The Sacraments mark some of those moments; we all know and remember some others. Sometimes we have to make a decision (who to go with, what college to go to, what job to do…) and what we decide makes all the difference. Sometimes something happens to us (an accident, an illness, an opportunity…) and we must react. How we do so makes a difference. In either case, it helps to have help–to have a guide. Here today’s Gospel applies. Can the blind guide the blind?
And this is what Lent is for: to guide and prepare us to make good decisions in our life.