Why this Lent is more important than usual

I don't know about you, but for some reason I'm actually looking forward to the start of Lent on Wednesday. Not because I'm particularly fond of self-denial, but because I think the Church needs all of us to take Lent especially seriously this year.

Maybe it has partly to do with feeling a need to do personal reparation for Church members' human imperfections, which were on unavoidable display in recent weeks in the anti-Semitic remarks of traditionalist cleric, in the Vatican's chaotic handling of news of the pope's remission of certain excommunications, and in posthumous revelations of grossly scandalous behavior by the founder of one of the Church's fastest growing religious orders.

The display of human flaws and sinfulness also handed a gold mine of opportunities for those unfriendly to the Catholic Church to get in their punches. Not surprisingly, many swung away with glee with little regard for the truth or proportion.

Another reason Lent may seem especially appropriate now is that months and months of news about the tanking economy has driven home the message that our culture has become so consumer-driven that we've lost any sense of the value of self-denial.

By taking Lent seriously this year, you and I can actually make a difference on all these counts.

One of our blog readers helped me crystallize these thoughts in a recent comment to our interview with a Legion of Christ priest discussing the revelation of the founder's fathering of a child. Going by the screen name "Pilgrim," this reader clarified that he or she was not Catholic but was a "cooperator" with the personal prelature of Opus Dei.

Pilgrim offered modest proposals that "should be charitably ignored if they seem harmful."

"The question is this," Pilgrim said. "In the various blogs and news items I have read, people have been discussing formal organizational actions (taking pictures down, reorganizing LC, dissolving LC) and some individual actions (asking forgiveness, etc.). What I have not seen mentioned is some sort of corporate spiritual response. The model that pops into my head (probably inappropriately) is Ninevah upon hearing [Jonah's] prophetic words there -- sackcloth and ashes. Are there Catholic practices or precedents or traditions for some sort of whole-group public mourning, public repentance, abject prayer for guidance, etc., not just for one Sunday or something but perhaps for 40 days?"

What Pilgrim's comments make clear is that we, as members of the Body of Christ, share the burden for the flaws of our Church leaders and fellow Catholics, and, as fellow sons and daughters of God, even for the foibles of our culture.

Let's embrace these 40 days of Lent for Church and world renewal.