Today marks the start of the Christian feast of Lent,. It is known as Ash Wednesday. Catholics mark this day by attending Mass and receiving the sign of Christ’s mark in ashes. It is also the mark of the Blessed Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Most non-Christians and atheists either frown upon this day, or dismiss it as yet another day in their lives, but with so many unanswered questions. A few years ago, we attended a funeral to mark the passing of a family member. One man remarked to me that every time he sets foot inside of a Church he has more questions still. I also have questions and they continue to plaque me to this day.
In the last few years, the Feast of Christmas came and went for me, leaving me more bereaved than the previous year. Christmas has been usurped by a series of pagan rituals and festivities which in essence have nothing to do with the Birth of Christ. For families, it is usually a time of gathering and paying respects to one another. Sometimes you meet family members that you have not seen for years. For me personally, my family gatherings have been a close-knit affair with little or no contact with the rest of the extended family. But, there is something about the earliest gatherings that I cannot suppress, because as a child, they were mostly joyful occasions. The child was spoilt with material gifts and could sit in his room for days afterwards cataloguing his unearned bounty.
He thought little of Christ who had nothing when He was born. And when He left this material, troubled world, He left it pretty much as He had come into it. Naked and vulnerable. Over two thousand years ago, there were some who rejoiced at His Birth, but when He was crucified by the Romans and Jews who persecuted Him and accused Him of treason and blasphemy, He was mourned by a few. Prominent amongst these mourners were His brother, John, His close friend Mary Magdalene and His Blessed Mother Mary. As a mother, Mary’s suffering, apart from Christ’s, was perhaps the worst and most tragic of all. No sooner had God literally given her a son, but He had taken the Son away from Her.
How confused she must have felt. It goes without saying that when we lose something in this life we experience similar feelings of confusion and empty loss, particularly when someone close to us has left the earth. In my case, it is no different. Sometimes I still mourn the passing of two different friends who were both close to me in ways that a stranger will never understand. In both cases their suffering was immense and would have been unbearable for me. When they passed on, it felt as though they had left us willingly, glad that their suffering was finally over. I often wonder how atheists feel about suffering, because they essentially believe that when the human body dies then that is it, there is nothing left over.
As Jesus Christ lamented on the Cross just seconds before He died, life is “finished”. So, it makes a little sense to me that this life, the physical one, should be lived as if each day was the last day on earth. So, another question then, why do non-believers continue to live hopeless, shallow and empty lives, merely living from one day to the next and bemoaning every bout of suffering that they are subjected to? For the believer, there is a conundrum, whether practising his or her faith as a Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Hindu or any other religion that he or she is born into or chooses. Why is life so complicated, and why do we continue to suffer, even when we’ve made the correct choices, or dedicated our lives to doing what was taught to us, or commanded of us?
Why do some of us feel that we have so little, even when we have substantially more than brothers and sisters who live miles from us in shacks and still thousands more miles from us persecuted by the most cruel and bloodiest means imaginable to us. Yes, it is imaginary, because we watch their suffering in a detached manner in the confines of our room and never truly experience what they go through. I ask myself this question today, why am I suffering and why have I not achieved what I set out to gain in this world, particularly after making the proverbial leap of faith in order to get onto the road less travelled. For now, I can only think that I still stand at my fork in the road while still contemplating the point of no return.