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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ash Wednesday

Jaime R. Vergara

Many of our friends and colleagues among the faithful in Christendom today shall be sporting a symbol of the cross on their foreheads made with ashes. The Torah line was an objective statement to Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return in the familiar King James rendition. Christian Churches then added the admonition to Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

It is Ash Wednesday in the Christian liturgy, 46 days before Easter, starting a 40-day fast culminating on Palm Sunday morning that remembers the triumphal entry into Jerusalem during Holy Week. The palm fronds to welcome the donkey-riding Messiah are kept and burnt into ashes to be used for the next Ash Wednesday to mark the crosses on the faithful’s foreheads, they who understand the life journey from baptism, confirmation, covenant, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension.

Fast, to the unfamiliar, is a period of reflection, meditation, contemplation, (prayer in Christian liturgy) understood by my secular friends as moments of profound silence, of detachment and distancing from the immediate, an assumption of the cloak of transcendence in perspective, and intense quiet engagement of full consciousness, the elan of the immanent human spirit that clears the cobwebs of the soul!

We may want to skip the poetry, but Saipan is abuzz with the House’s impeachment proceedings. We are reminded of T. S. Elliot’s much-quoted Hollow Men that begins:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

Devoid of moralism, we are in accord with the acts of the Legislature. The mandate of voters in the last election was instructive, and Uncle Ben did look like a stuffed man (my judgment) but there is a feel of shallowness about his indictment from men and women of a sector that has shown itself through the years to be too self-serving to merit serious consideration.

The Senate hearing might just end with our paraphrased T.S. Elliott:

This is the way the proceedings end
Not with a bang but a whimper.

We tend to be sympathetic to Benigno Fitial, not only for his critical place in the Chamoru/Carolinian divide, but also personally for his cervical stenosis since we also suffer from cervical spondylosis! Not to forget the wisdom of marrying Pinay Josie! We are, however, on record of being on the other end of the political spectrum. T.S. Elliot, after he joined the Anglican Church, penned his Ash Wednesday poem ending:

Because I know that time is always time

And place is always and only place

And what is actual is actual only for one time

And only for one place

I rejoice that things are as they are and

I renounce the blessed face

And renounce the voice

Because I cannot hope to turn again

Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something

Upon which to rejoice.

It is, perhaps, appropriate that this hiatus from productive legislation is happening in the season of Lent. The Legislature and the CNMI are busy constructing something upon which to rejoice!

Rejoice is a Shrove/Fat Tuesday state of being, the day before Ash Wednesday to be picked up again on Palm Sunday. The Mardi Gras in New Orleans and the Carnival in Rio are bangs before the whimper! Our rejoicing this week came from the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI has not been one of our favorite pontiffs. Erstwhile Cardinal Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, longtime Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (1981-2005) before his election to the papacy, in our Methodist and reformation view, had been a reactionary cleric who negated Vatican II advances. But he redeems himself in our eyes in acknowledging his inability to function to meet the demands of his office by virtue of health and age, and decided to do something about it. He resigned effective the end of the month. We rejoice.

No longer a practicing communicant even in universal Christendom, with a foot long ago in the scientific, urban, and secular world of eco-democracy, I have no claim on relevance nor integrity to speak for or even within the Christian communion, though we were once ordained in its priesthood. However, the universality of its gospel, neither Jew nor gentile, allows us in freedom and responsibility to engage in the continuing conversation over the efficacy of its powerful symbols like Ash Wednesday.

From dust we came and to dust we shall return, indeed! S/he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Mt. Carmel High School’s distinguished alumnus and alleged Catholic faithful Ben Fitial might consider the discourse in this season of Lent, might heed the season’s dramaturgical pronouncement, and act accordingly.

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