Today I came across Abp. of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ Lenten Reflections for 2009. It is in video form, though there is also a printed transcript, which is nice since I can’t watch video currently due to poor internet… So, while I have not watched the video, I have read the short transcript. Here is the concluding paragraph:
But it’s important to remember that the word ‘Lent’ itself comes from the old English word for ‘spring’. It’s not about feeling gloomy for forty days; it’s not about making yourself miserable for forty days; it’s not even about giving things up for forty days. Lent is springtime. It’s preparing for that great climax of springtime which is Easter – new life bursting through death. And as we prepare ourselves for Easter during these days, by prayer and by self-denial, what motivates us and what fills the horizon is not self-denial as an end in itself but trying to sweep and clean the room of our own minds and hearts so that the new life really may have room to come in and take over and transform us at Easter.
Ok, I agree it’s important to focus on Lent as preparation for Easter… this paragraph is fine as far as it goes. But I’m disappointed the reflection ENDS here. It felt as if after focusing on fairly trivial externals about the history and symbols of Lent, +Rowan was just getting into the meat of what Lent is about, and then he stops.
After reading the above, I couldn’t help but contrast the message from Rowan Williams with the excellent Lenten message of Pope Benedict XVI, which discusses fasting in some depth. I have been very remiss in not linking or quoting from at any significant length here.
This section of Pope Benedict’s message, in particular, I found very important in terms of how it helps us look beyond our often narrow modern view of fasting – focused solely on its physical and health benefits – to appreciate its unseen spiritual benefits:
In our own day, fasting seems to have lost something of its spiritual meaning, and has taken on, in a culture characterized by the search for material well-being, a therapeutic value for the care of one’s body. Fasting certainly bring benefits to physical well-being, but for believers, it is, in the first place, a “therapy” to heal all that prevents them from conformity to the will of God. In the Apostolic Constitution Pænitemini of 1966, the Servant of God Paul VI saw the need to present fasting within the call of every Christian to “no longer live for himself, but for Him who loves him and gave himself for him … he will also have to live for his brethren“ (cf. Ch. I). Lent could be a propitious time to present again the norms contained in the Apostolic Constitution, so that the authentic and perennial significance of this long held practice may be rediscovered, and thus assist us to mortify our egoism and open our heart to love of God and neighbor, the first and greatest Commandment of the new Law and compendium of the entire Gospel (cf. Mt 22, 34-40).
The faithful practice of fasting contributes, moreover, to conferring unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord. Saint Augustine, who knew all too well his own negative impulses, defining them as “twisted and tangled knottiness” (Confessions, II, 10.18), writes: “I will certainly impose privation, but it is so that he will forgive me, to be pleasing in his eyes, that I may enjoy his delightfulness” (Sermo 400, 3, 3: PL 40, 708). Denying material food, which nourishes our body, nurtures an interior disposition to listen to Christ and be fed by His saving word. Through fasting and praying, we allow Him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.
The Pope’s Lenten message is truly MUST reading in full!
Anyway, I wish Archbishop Rowan and the CoE as a whole would take a page out of Pope Benedict’s book and stop “dumbing down” Lent…
Between +Rowan’s very short and not-very-deep message, and the almost insultingly basic “About Lent” and Lent FAQs resources at the CoE’s Love Life Live Lent site (which seem to spend more time talking about Pancakes, and Hot Cross Buns, and Football matches, than self-examination or spiritual growth…), I fear that the Church of England and its leadership have given up the hope that the church and Christians can truly transform the culture, and are merely accomodating it and trying to talk at the culture’s level rather than pointing the culture to eternal truths.
The CoE seems to want to be accepted by the culture, while the Roman Catholic church still seeks to call people out of the culture to be transformed.
Thoughts anyone… Am I being unfair to +Rowan (i.e. comparing apples & oranges – two messages meant for different audiences and purposes)? Have I missed a deeper Lenten message or reflection from him somewhere?