Xavier Casanovas. For some time now I have been trying to give a rationale for the need to secularize Lent. For reasons that are self-evident, our Western societies have been taking each of the religious celebrations and adapting them to the secular calendar. Christmas has become the adoration of the god of consumption. Easter is a surrender to the sin of gluttony. The great feast days, historically consecrated to the pious devotion to the patron saints of individual towns, have been converted into endless revelry. And in some cases we can still say that the true meaning has not been completely lost.
That being said, it is clear that a capitalist society like ours will bestow a new meaning only on those things which can benefit it (such as a holiday, excess or growth) and will reject and reduce to insignificance everything that might question its values. Let’s not deceive ourselves. Lent is neither sexy nor will it earn money for anyone. Even so, it could be converted into a powerful weapon for combat.
As we are often reminded by contemporary prophets like Jorge Riechmann, we will experience a downsizing, whether voluntarily or by having it forced on us. Given the choice, and for the good of those who always end up paying the price for the mistakes of others, it is better that it be something positive. But it is here that the great question arises: what motivating factor could accompany the necessary transition to a lifestyle that is slower and not compulsive? What force of will would be capable of negating a desire for more, to have more, to run more, and not be perceived as an extravagance? What ascetical motivation would not be lived out as a limitation imposed on an insatiable desire? In secularized societies, in which Lent, which is not more or less than the preparation of the body and soul to make us conscious of what a more authentic life is, has fewer and fewer followers, can we find a secular version that would lead us to life choices that are not self-destructive, even though it might be for only a small part of the year?
Well, since it seems that this reflection is arriving late or that no one has wanted to hear it before, what we could have done voluntarily is now being forced upon us. The situation which has been created by the coronavirus is a paradigmatic example. Governments are obliged to take drastic measures of confinement. I would like to think that this is being done out of necessity although there are those who legitimately speculate about the shock value or that this is the new normal. An interruption of work and scholastic routines, cancelation of flights and trips, and as a consequence an economy in free fall, productivity stalled – isn’t this exactly what an inevitable Lent would look like?
Now that we have been obliged to do it, let’s make a virtue out of necessity. Let us think about in what ways we can live with less, search for silence and pause our lives. Let’s desire to see how downsizing, with its consequent positive impact on the environment, could be another valid option for living and probably the only one that is possible. Remembering the sort of apprenticeship that this coronavirus crisis will have signified, and which will have ended sooner or later, beginning next year we should be able to recognize that for a few weeks we opened our eyes and it became clear that our horizon is finite, that we are not a virtual reality but physical beings that suffer and experience fatigue. We will have to recall it because we will have forgotten and without remembrance, progress is not more than the trash that we leave behind. There is no future without a present which is aware of its limitations. The worst of the temptations that we have as human beings are the excessiveness and illusion that we are totally in control of everything. Let’s remember that we are dust and unto dust we will return.
If the Christian Lent culminates in the joy of Easter, this secular and forced Lent will take us clearly to the enjoyment of a solitary and austere life, respectful of nature, a life which is humble and sober and which is both the condition which makes possible and which guarantees a full life.