Ash Wednesday begins the Catholic season of Lent, a time of examining our consciences, confessing and repenting our sins, and working to change the direction of our lives back toward God through prayer, self-sacrifice, and charitable acts to others.
All of us have personal ways of doing that. A friend of mine has the habit every Lent of listening to an audio version of Dante Alighieri’s 14th century Divine Comedy from start to finish. The Comedy – Dante’s imagined journey into the pit of **** (Inferno), then up through purgatory (Purgatorio) to heaven and the beatific vision (Paradiso) – is one of the great achievements of Western civilization.
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For busy people distracted by work, bills, and family, though, reading it is often impossible. Listening to it on CD is a much easier matter. Spoken by the late poet John Ciardi, or performed by an ensemble BBC cast, the Comedy comes alive in a powerful – and in the Inferno, hair-raising – way. Dante understands the human heart, our capacity for both good and evil, and the consequences of our actions, like no other writer. As Dante saw clearly, anyone who imagines that God’s love and mercy somehow exclude his justice needs to think again. This is why Lent is so important. It’s the season in Church life that calls us to discipline our appetites, put aside our excuses, and take an honest look at the state of our souls.
St. John XXIII, the “Good Pope John” who convened the Second Vatican Council, liked to describe the Church as our mother and teacher. So she always has been — even in those many times when her leaders and people have failed her (Dante has a generous population of clergy and religious, including popes and bishops, in his Inferno). In that role...
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"Tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive." C.S. Lewis