Ash Wednesday and Thoughts of a Lenten "Groundhog's Day"
by John Aquino on 03/06/19
On Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent on the Roman Catholic calendar, my thoughts were turned not only to the path to Easter 2019, when Lent ends, but to Lenten inspiration from the 1993 Harold Ramis' comedy Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.
The service on Ash Wednesday allows the congregation to stand and have ashes placed on their foreheads as the priest or Eucharistic minister says, "Remember, man, that though are dust and onto dust though shalt return." Actually, that passage was the only one read during the distribution process when I was growing up. Today, there is an alternate passage, which was the one read to me today: "Repent and turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." The older sentence is a stern reminder to the congregation after they have celebrated (or over-celebrated) the night before in Marti Gras festivities on Shrove (or Fat) Tuesday. The modern passage instructs the listener to repent but also provides a ray of the hope of salvation if he or she follows the Gospel.
In the homily at Mass today, the priest urged us to not limit the Lenten things we do--penitential thoughts, contributions to the poor, periodic fasting and abstinence--to Lent but that we do them throughout the year. It is similar to the urging in a Christmas sermon not to confine Christmas thoughts to Christmas, or, as sung by Bing Crosby playing a priest in the 1959 movie Say One for Me in the title song by Sammy Cahn and Jimmie Van Heusen, "It's not the things you do at Christmastime, /But the Christmas things you do all year through."
But the priest's suggestion, for some reason caused my mind to think of the film Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray relives February 2nd, Groundhog Day, over and over, for months if not years, until he becomes more generous of spirit. I wondered about a "Catholic Lenten Groundhog Day" in which an individual wakes up and finds it is Lent every day. Every day there is little joy, the colors are drab, the day consists of fasting and penitential thoughts, and there is hope but it seem a long way off. Groundhog Day is a parallel version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and its many film versions where Scrooge learns to be more generous after being visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. (Murray had starred in a modern version of A Christmas Carol called Scrooged in 1988.) Perhaps the idea of a Catholic Groundhog Day is a modern conception of purgatory, the Catholic doctrine of the place where people who do not deserve to go to hell but whose sins on earth to not merit a place in heaven. There is, however, hope of heaven in purgatory, just as the second passage recited during the distribution of ashes offers hope. And perhaps heaven is a Christmas or Eastern Groundhog Day, where there is joy and hope the whole year through. Just a thought.
Copyright 2019 by John T. Aquino