Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pay It Forward On Ash Wednesday

My morning read of The Toronto Sun included a column by Neil MacCarthy, Director of Public Relations & Communications Archdiocese of Toronto. It was actually a Letter To the Editor, but it was given (deservedly) column treatment.

Now...I wish to point out that I'm not a religious guy, in fact I haven't attended a church service in over a year. And I'm not particularly fond of the Roman Catholic faith, some of its teachings and the pedophile priests that Rome has sheltered and protected. With that being said it would be unfair to totally dismiss those aspects that are positive and life affirming.

I did grow up in a Christian household...my Mother was the daughter of a United Church of Canada minister, so I'm not completely out of my depth when it comes to the Christian faith and its observances. I know that we're entering the season of Lent, which is the 40 days which lead up to Easter. For those of a more secular bent, Easter is of course when the Easter Bunny finally emerges to shower us with candy.

If you come across some devout Roman Catholics tomorrow you'll likely notice their foreheads marked by a cross with ashes. In his letter Mr. MacCarthy has a recommendation for those who do not wish to partake in this religious ritual, even for those who don't ascribe to any particular faith. He says:

"...if you'd rather concentrate on charity, hand a stranger $10 and ask them to give it to someone they think will need a helping hand".

What a great idea!!! And its a suggestion I will act on tomorrow. I do have religious friends and acquaintances who during this pre-Easter season have asked me..."What are you giving up for Lent"? I typically offer up a smart ass joke about forgoing skydiving or bowling....because seriously, I don't really see the significance. I get the whole self-sacrifice thing, it just isn't for me. But this is about helping people in the best possible way, anonymously. Giving $10 to a stranger with the instruction to 'pay it forward' is brilliant, irrespective of the time of year.
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Now...for those curious about the actual religious significance of Ash Wednesday, I'll draw upon my years in Sunday school...the times I wasn't sleeping, and try to give you the basic story.

Jesus left the city of Jerusalem and went out into the desert, just 40 days before he was to be crucified. It was a Wednesday and people were burning palm leaves as he left, and his sandals left a trail of ashes behind him. Moses too was out wandering in the desert and he came across the path that Jesus had left. Moses followed it and they met. Moses and Jesus then came across a man, his wife, and their son's and daughters. The man's name was Noah and he was building an ark, a large ship to house a multitude of animals because God had told Noah that he was going to cause a great flood.

The ark was finished but Noah was having difficulty locating all the animals he needed to save. Across a large river were two pigs, but Noah had no way to retrieve them. Casting his eyes to the heavens Moses commanded the waters of the river to part, which allowed Jesus to cross and collect the two pigs. However once Jesus had them in his arms the waters ebbed back and his path was again blocked. Undeterred Jesus walked across the waters and delivered the two pigs to Noah. This is why Christians to this day relish in eating pork, with many having a traditional ham dinner for their Easter meal.

Now Moses and Jesus were unaffected by the great flood, and Jesus was able to return to Jerusalem after the event because God promised them that they and the city would be spared if they both agreed to give up one thing for the next 40 days. Moses is said to have given up being so serious all the time, and spent the next 40 days telling Jesus every joke he had ever heard...which is why to this day so many of the Jewish faith have gone on to successful careers as comedians. And Jesus abstained not only from sex...but also from thinking about it. Which is why the early church required priests to remain celibate. Jesus clearly got the better of the bargain as his only companion during this time was a guy who was several hundred years old.

There you have it, I might have erred on some of the finer details but that's the general thrust. And yes, I do know I'm going to hell...but that's okay. When I die I want to be with my friends.

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