Friday 3 March 2017

Pancakes, Ashes and Eggs

On Tuesday, Cheshire House boys seized a seasonal opportunity to celebrate Pancake Tuesday. The proceeds were being directed to their particular cause, the Ryder-Cheshire Foundation ‘for the relief of suffering’, both here and abroad. Hundreds of boys descended on those doughy delights – nearly a thousand pancakes were cooked and consumed!

Pancake Tuesday (also known as Shrove Tuesday, when one used to have your sins shriven or forgiven) was traditionally the day to clean out the larder in preparation for the long Lenten fast beginning the next day. All the eggs and butter went into the batter. A good meal fortified you for the lean days ahead. That is why it was termed Mardi Gras or ‘Fat Tuesday’. Often there was one last fling before the austerities came – hence a Carnivale (from the Latin, ‘farewell to meat’).

On Wednesday, ashes were distributed in the Gartlan to the whole school gathered for our liturgy. The recent bushfires, throughout the State and beyond, grounded that dark symbol in our Australian experience. So much is lost each year – lives, homes, cherished items, farms and livestock. Only grey desolation remains. But as searing as that is, we know the familiar cycle in our Australian story. People rally around, support abounds, rebuilding begins, a new start, even charred stumps and ashen earth begins to sprout green. Interestingly, the word Lent is old-English for ‘spring’. So this very season of austerity and other-directedness anticipates the flourishing forth of new life. The Easter story. A new beginning captured in yet another batch of symbols of eggs and rabbits to suggest regeneration and a fresh start.

This week, the Holy Father, Francis, took up that parable of Jesus about the Rich Man and Lazarus as his reference point. This happens to be the only parable where one of the players is given a name. It seems Jesus really wanted to personalise the lesson. Lazarus, starving, covered in sores and licked by dogs, lives at the door of the Rich Man who, in his self-absorption, doesn’t even notice him. “Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift,” Francis said, and went on to say:

“A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognising their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change… Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable.”

Pointing to the ostentatious displays of the Rich Man’s wealth, the Pope warned,

“In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride… Money can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol. Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity towards others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace… For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego.”

Francis underscored the urgent Lenten call to conversion. To return to God with all our hearts, “to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord … who waits for us patiently, ready to forgive us when we fall short.”

Many of us began Lent with an ashen blotch on our forehead. Let’s pray for a deeper stamp within, one of conversion and commitment to outreach. Then maybe our Lent will be truly a ‘Spring’ word in us, signalling new growth and new life.

Fr Ross Jones SJ