Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ash Wednesday

Yep, You're Going to Die, Sooner, Rather Than Later

Memento Mori. From Catacombs of Palermo, Sicily.
It is not a holy day of obligation, but the Bear invites you get the important season of Lent off to a good start. Ashes are an ancient symbol of mourning and repentance. They also remind you, dear reader, that you will soon die and face judgment.

You can wager everything on the modern notion that no one need worry about Hell. That ordinary folk don't go there. Or you can share the saints' horror of Hell, and recall that Jesus talked about Hell more than just about anything.

If only out of an abundance of caution, do not be too sure of your salvation. The Bear does not say these things on his own. He only repeats what the Church and its saints have unanimously said. The only saint who said Hell would be empty was Origen. Oh, that's right, he's not a saint, is he?

Spend Lenten Time Wisely

St. Benedict's rule commanded each monk to take, with the Abbot's approval, a book to read throughout Lent. (I have mine picked out, but have not heard back from our Abbot. Some things are still done by mail.) It's not a bad thought.

Did you know Bears don't watch television? Not even Malayan Sun Bears, the most frivolous of all bears. We consider it a human vice that we are just not attracted to. A lot could be done with just 30 minutes less TV. Plenty of time for a Rosary, Vespers, or a chapter of the Gospels.

Be alert to take advantage of grace. Especially the little prompts. To say a prayer for no reason, or do the dishes for someone else, or bite back that defensive or critical word. The tiniest mortifications can be the best.

You Will Fail Lent, So Then What?

I always feel Lent didn't last long enough. Like everything else, I start out with the best of intentions, but always get forgetful and lazy. Bears are lazy. But they're also stubborn. If I may have the temerity to say something from my own pitiful experience, sins and failures are like snakes that sting with both ends.

The bite is the sin itself, and the damage it does. The tail stings with discouragement that makes you want to give up, and not to seek confession's medicine. In some ways, the sting of discouragement is worse than the bite of sin. Fortunately, it is easy to deal with. Don't dwell on the wound. File it away for confession and immediately go on with your battle just as before.

But silly Bear, isn't that hypocritical to act all holy when you've just committed a sin? Not at all. What, you expect not to sin? You consider yourself so perfect that you are astonished and cast down to discover you're merely human?  No, go on right as before doing your good Catholic thing. They hate that. Instead of taking you out, they've just made you more humble and reliant on the powers of Heaven.

The Bavarian Bible Bear Will Be Busy

Those are the Bear's thoughts about Ash Wednesday. And each Friday morning, you may recall, those who have survived, I mean passed an encounter with the Bavarian Bible Bear, can look forward to a mess of freshly caught fish. Lent can be the best part of the year. It's when for just 40 days we concentrate on repentance, prayer, self-denial, almsgiving, and maybe some classic spiritual reading. It's the Church's reminder of the good Christian habits we should practice all the time.


  1. Down through the tomb's inward arch
    He has shouldered out into Limbo
    to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber:
    the merciful dead, the prophets,
    the innocents just His own age and those
    unnumbered others waiting here
    unaware, in an endless void He is ending
    now, stooping to tug at their hands,
    to pull them from their sarcophagi,
    dazzled, almost unwilling.

    -- from "Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell", by Denise Levertov

    [That photograph from the Palermo catacombs put me at a loss for words, so I had to find someone else's.]

  2. Beatiful imagery. The catacombs seem endless. You are so outnumbered by the countless dead, both monks and worthies of Palermo, the virgins set chastely apart. On and on they go, presenting every face that death can make, some hideous, a few recalling life, and even their own little star: the remarkably preserved Rosalina, who looks almost like she could wake. This went on until the late 19th century, so they are by no means ancient. Close enough to us... Close enough.


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