Monday, 20 February 2012

Job, the Long-Suffering One

Icon, Job, the Long-Suffering One, drawn by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2012
Job lived in Arabia almost 2000 years before Christ. According to the Book of Job, he lived in the land of Uz (whose location is unknown). He was an extremely wealthy man for his time. As well, he was righteous, prosperous, and had a large family. The story goes that God permitted Satan to take away all of Job's wealth, family and health to see if Job would still maintain his trust in God or if he would turn from God in anger.

The story of Job is an early biblical introduction to one of the basic tenents of what I call the Catholic "theology" of suffering (something I have spoken about previously):  that all people suffer regardless of how righteous, rich, humble or holy they are.  What Job could not know and what we know now is that this inevitable suffering, joined to the sufferings of Christ, has value for us and for all those who are dear to us, living and deceased.

In his many long days and weeks of trial -- as his wife tells him to curse God and die and as his three friends (see the 3 figures in the icon) tell him over and over again that he must be suffering because he, Job, has sinned and that if he will only repent, God will bless him again -- Job never deviates from his belief that he is not suffering because of something he has done or failed to do.  As we know, he is right. His story teaches us that even the righteous suffer and that no matter how severe our sufferings may be, God does not owe us an explanation -- even though most of us think, for some reason, that God has to explain His permissive will to us!

                   ORTHODOX HYMN ABOUT JOB (original in Serbian)



Well today is Clean Monday, tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday and then we have Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  I have been looking forward to this week for some time now as the Lenten Season is my favourite season of the Church Year.  I am a bit weird that way -- it is similar to liking to pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary more than the other three sets of Mysteries.  I am not a morbid person nor do I enjoy suffering.  I think it has more to do with the way my life experiences seem to enable me to identify more clearly with the Passion of Christ than with any other part of His experience.  Whatever the case may be, let's forget all that for now while I talk a bit about these 3 days.

Spiritual Housecleaning
A task for Clean Monday
Clean Monday is the first day of Great Lent, as Eastern Catholics and Eastern Orthodox refer to the Lenten season. For Eastern Catholics, it falls two days before the Western date of Ash Wednesday.  Clean Monday is a reminder that we should begin Lent with good intentions and a desire to clean our spiritual house. It is a day of strict fasting for Eastern Catholics, including abstinence not only from meat but from eggs and dairy products as well.  On Clean Monday and throughout Great Lent, Eastern Catholics frequently pray the Prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian:
O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter. [kneel/prostration]
Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience, and love. [kneel/prostration]
O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother or sister; for You are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen. [kneel/prostration]
Shrove Tuesday, as the name suggests, is the day for people to be shriven.

Paczki (Polish)

To be shriven means to have confessed your sins and received absolution, which is a very good way to begin Lent. Most Eastern Europeans celebrate Shrove Tuesday, known as Pancake Tuesday or Mardi Gras in the States and Canada, with special foods. In the old days, meat, dairy and eggs were abstained from during the entire Lenten period (Orthodox Christians still do this). So ingenious cooks rid their pantries of temptations the week before Ash Wednesday with a climax on Shrove Tuesday of rich, fat-laden feasts that included thick and thin pancakes, deep-fried doughnuts and pastries. While the fasting is usually less rigorous these days, the food traditions survive. The only one of these traditions that I have ever indulged in was paczki. These jam-filled,  doughnut-type treats are so rich and delicious that after two of them you are seriously suffering a sugar high! After eating like this, you really need to go to Confession and confess committing the sin of gluttony!

"Remember that you
are dust and unto dust
you shall return."

In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday.   During Mass, the ashes which give Ash Wednesday its name are distributed. The ashes are made by burning the blessed palms that were distributed the previous year on Palm Sunday; many churches ask their parishioners to return any palms that they took home so that they can be burned.  After the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water, the faithful come forward to receive them. The priest dips his right thumb in the ashes and, making the Sign of the Cross on each person's forehead, says, "Remember, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return" (or a variation on those words).  The distribution of ashes reminds us of our own mortality and calls us to repentance. In the early Church, Ash Wednesday was the day on which those who had sinned, and who wished to be readmitted to the Church, would begin their public penance. The ashes that we receive are a reminder of our own sinfulness, and many Catholics leave them on their foreheads all day as a sign of humility.



Suki contemplating
the idea of giving up
something for Lent!
 Of course, the one major task for each of us as we approach Lent is to decide exactly what we, personally, will be sacrificing for our Lenten Offering to God.
I have been speaking to Suki about this, but so far she has shown little interest in making a decision.  I suggested she consider doing a bit of fasting (since she is overweight it couldn't hurt); however, she gave that idea an absolute thumbs down (or paws down as the case may be).  I have pointed out that Wednesday is just two days away, but so far she refuses to discuss the matter further! 

As for myself, I have decided that I will donate a certain amount of money each time I speak in a certain way.  This is something I have an ongoing problem with and so it is quite possible that I will have collected a goodly sum by the time Easter arrives!  I will also try to do the normal fasting and abstinence of the Lenten Season. Of course, this depends on how my health is during these next 40 days, but I am determined to do what I can to stay mindful of Our Lord's Passion, suffering and death and to spend extra time in prayer.

I asked Suki if she wanted to go to Mass with me on Wednesday and get ashes.  She pointed out that since she is black already, the ashes wouldn't really show up at all.  Thus, no one would be impressed by seeing this sign of her piety so she is just going to stay at home and sleep!  I tried to explain to her that the purpose of the ashes is not to impress other people but to remind ourselves of our mortality and the need to prepare ourselves for eternity.  This is one more topic which she is refusing to discuss any further -- she says all this talking is interrupting her sleep!  What a cat!!

I wish you all a blessed Ash Wednesday and a holy Lenten Season.  May the peace of God be with us all.


Sue said...

Just to let you know I have had a lovely visit you your blog. I have one also bur do not put nealy as much effort into as yours, congratulations. may be that will be my lenten offering! I love your Icons. Mary of egypt is wonderful as is your Sudan Madonna. I have do Saint Mary of the Cross MacKillop, Road to Rome blog spot.
Keep up the inspirational writings.
Many blessings. Sue

Sue said...

I love your comments on Lent. Thank you it has given me something to think about. Your icons are beautiful congratualtions. I also have a blog
Road to Rome on it I have published several Icons - St Mary of the Cross MacKillop. They are such a blessing, it is great to see your work.
Many blessings as you continue.