Mardi Gras. Karnival. The beginning of Great Lent. The start of the catechumenal process. Although I may romanticize such things (a confession of sorts- forgive me), today, tomorrow, and this week loom larger in my devotional life than more popular Christian festivals like Christmas and Easter. Certainly I celebrate Christ's Incarnation and birth. And my hope of all hopes is hope in the resurrection. But in spite of myself, it is this penitential preparing that takes hold most strongly of my imagination. The only comparable holiday for me is All Hallow's Eve, which took on new meaning for me the first time I lived in a predominately Catholic country (Slovakia) and witnessed the placing of candles in the cemetaries all over the country. Bright lights on a dark night. Later on I witnessed Karnival in Italy and Germany, and saw the value of the celebration before the penitence, not debauched and excessive celebration, but the simple celebrating of good food, fellowship, and fun. And two years ago I stood in St. Elizabeth's cathedral (Kosice) in the cold and received the ashes on my forehead, and that clinched it.
In addition to romanticizing liturgical rites and seasons, I may be prone to contrariness. The culture shares gifts at Christmas and eats chocolate bunnies at Easter, but this week provides no days off from work, not even any space for contemplation and penitential action, at least at the level of culture, work, and American life. So me the contrarian will make the space in my own life. I will blog less. I will eat no meat. I will pray. And Christ and his cross I pray will be at the center of my vision throughout these forty days, in the hope of an impossible possibility- resurrection.