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Ash Wednesday Game of Groans
March 5, 2014
by William P. Meyers

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"Moreover, when you fast, don't show the sad face of a hypocrite. They disfigure their faces, so that others will know they are fasting... wash your face when you fast" — The Bible, Mathew 6:16-17

Ash Wednesday was a big deal when I was in Roman Catholic School in Jacksonville, Florida in the 1960s. It marked the beginning of Lent, which was an extra-unhappy period lasting 40 days each year. During the 40 days of Lent we were actively suspected of having personally cried out "Crucify Him!" back in 33 A.D. or whenever it was; at least our sins somehow encouraged that terrifying pro-death penalty demonstration.

Even outside of Lent the Meyers family was shrouded in almost perpetual gloom. Catholic School generally was a bit less rigid than the Meyers family, but it confirmed for us, and not just in religion class, that we were not worthy. We were sinners. We had a blackness within us, Original Sin, that could only be washed away when we died. But more likely we were simply going to Hell, or at best were going to spend a few million years in Purgatory before being allowed into Heaven. In the meantime, we were a continual disappointment to our mother, who had no choice but to spank us (me, my brother and sister, the Unholy Trinity) on an almost daily basis.

On Ash Wednesday, as part of Mass (which took place at school, in my case Trinity Academy when I was young and Resurrection when I was pre-teen), the priest would smear a cross of ashes on our foreheads. We were not to wash it off, even though any other day of the year having some dirt smeared on our faces was a major offense. We were joining Jesus on his preparation for death (and, unlike us, resurrection), and that meant fasting and giving up something special for Lent.

It occurred to no one that the Bible does not record Jesus fasting as a child. No, he was supposed to be 33 years old when he did his famous 40 day fast. I started these fasts at the age of 10, and continued them until I left home at the age of 17. No wonder I think I'm so bloody holy.

Of course we never read the Bible. The Meyers family had pretty many books in our house, including an Encyclopedia Britannica and a Funk & Wagnalls, and crucifixes and Virgin Marys and whatnot, but no Bible. I'm not sure about today, but in the 1960s the Pope and crew still considered the Bible a dangerous book. They read us a few choice excerpts from it at Mass, and there were some quotations from it in Missals, but the Hierarchy felt we lay people might misinterpret the thing if we could get our hands on one.

For instance, it really sounds (see quote above) like God did not want us wearing black smudge crosses on our foreheads. Also, he did not want us braying together in churches: "Don't pray in public like hypocrites ... pray in a closet, with the door shut." [Matthew 6:5-6]

Nor is the Pope mentioned in the Bible. Not even in Acts of the Apostles. No, Saint Peter died in Jerusalem, or maybe Babylon; he never had a thing to do with the City of Rome.

So there you are, bored to death in school (unless you were lucky enough to have BTD (Boredom Tolerance Disorder)), no desert in the lunch bucket, no meat on Fridays, usually no breakfast (because it would interfere with taking Communion at Mass; Jesus's body does not mix well with bacon and eggs, or even Cocoa Krispies), no energy even at recess, adults even crabbier than usual, and headed towards Hell Week.

Hell Week is not the real name for the week before Easter. But it should be. All restraint is dropped: the evilness of our human nature, and our inevitable death and eternal torment in Hell, are constantly shoved in our faces. Also, hatred of Jews (but for some reason not Romans) is super-whipped up, and hatred of communists and Protestants (heretics) also throbs like a flagellant's back.

It is time for the Stations of the Cross! See how Jesus suffered, and suffer along with him. Every sin committed in your entire lifetime adds to his suffering! See him falsely accused by The Jews. See him scourged. See the Crown of Thorns set on his head. See the Blessed Virgin Mary weeping. See him hanging on the Cross. See the Spear thrust into his side.

But cheer up. On Easter there will be chocolate eggs layed by marshmallow ducklings. And you can begin to look forward to the end of the school year.

Agree? Disagree? You can comment on this post at Natural Liberation Blog at blogspot.com

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