Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Sic transit gloria mundi

Today is Ash Wednesday, the Day of Ashes, the start of Lent.

Christ, by Heinrich Hoffman

This year, the College's Lenten reading is The Imitation of Christ, by Fr Thomas Hemerken (a.k.a. a Kempis!). Thomas was a monk in the fifteenth-century Netherlands. This humanistic period, and this part of the world, saw a great expanse of pietistic movements in the Church, counter-acting the pre-dominant scholasticism which had developed - in academic circles - in the middle ages. The Imitation of Christ became a popular devotional work, and, indeed, is said to be the second most popular book in history after the Bible. It has, for many generations, fed the spiritual hunger of the Christian people, and continues to do so today. As usual, we have a rigorous timetable of reading for the first 4 weeks of Lent, though, in an ideal situation, the book should be read quite slowly!

An excerpt from today's reading made me think of the meaning of Ash Wednesday:

Tell me, where now are all those great doctors and masters with whom you were well acquainted while they were alive and immersed in learning? Now others fill their places, and I know not whether they ever think of them. In their lifetime they seemed to be someone, and now they are not spoken of.
Oh, how quickly does the glory of the world pass away!...He is truly great who has great charity. He is truly great who is little in his own eyes and esteems all honours as naught. He is truly prudent who considers all earthly things are refuse that he may gain Christ. And he is very learned indeed who does the will of God and renounces his own will.

Last week was half-term, and a few East Anglians were in Rome for a little holiday. While walking around the Vatican Grottoes, I was struck by the reality that the vast, low-vaulted room was filled with the remains of many men, who, in their lifetimes, were some of the most powerful, important and influential people on the planet. Now, as we say, they are dust. Sic transit gloria mundi!

It does make you think about the trials we endure, living only in the present-moment as we do, and how they will, one day, be naught. While we should strive to live well, live for Christ, in our time on earth, we must remember, in the words of Job, that as we came from our mother's womb, so we shall return to our Father in heaven.

Our desire, our love for God can be demonstrated in this holy season by prayer, fasting and alms-giving. In Lent, we often 'give something up', and in doing so, we demonstrate to ourselves and to God, that we place our trust and our love in Him alone, and do not, ultimately, wish to dwell in this, our exile.

The Church's sacred liturgy is the most perfect expression of our loving worship of God, and of our hope and faith in him:

Support us, Lord,  
as with this Lenten fast, 
we begin our Christian warfare, 
so that doing battle against the spirit of evil, 
we may be armed with the weapon of self-denial. 

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