Tuesday 15 October 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Lent is the latest easy target for people who think they're being edgy'

Street ministry: Fr Brian White gives ashes for Ash Wednesday to dog-walker Cyril McCrea on Blackrock promenade. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson
Street ministry: Fr Brian White gives ashes for Ash Wednesday to dog-walker Cyril McCrea on Blackrock promenade. Photo: Ciara Wilkinson
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

I didn't realise that this week featured Ash Wednesday until the day itself. Normally Pancake Tuesday provides an obvious clue but I don't eat pancakes so the whole thing passed me by.

Until, that is, I started scrolling through the papers and various social media newsfeeds on Wednesday.

Ah, I thought, that was the day we used to get some soot on our forehead and wash it off as soon as the teacher wasn't looking.

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It was never a big deal. I was never a believer, so I never felt the crisis of conscience that apparently comes when people are wrestling with their beliefs.

But the concept of Lent has always appealed to the self-denier in people and anything that prompts someone to give up the fags, or the booze or whatever their favourite vice is, can only be a good thing.

Yet several papers in the UK sneered at both Ash Wednesday and Lent, with one columnist calling it "showy and wholesome" which, one would have thought, was precisely the point.

Other social media types closer to home then seemed to have a grand old time scoffing at the people who still get ashes on their forehead.

The general consensus seemed to veer in some circles from basic derision to accusations that anyone who wore ash was supporting clerical sex abuse.

We live in age when people like to loudly trumpet their tolerance, but it's a very selective and insincere form of tolerance.

The columnist in the UK would never refer to Diwali as "showy and wholesome", for example, and many of the Irish posters who were so quick to deride the utterly harmless tradition of Ash Wednesday would have a meltdown if someone said they were just being a lazy bigot.

There was a time when mockery of the Catholic Church in this country could cost you your job and your reputation.

Those days have long gone and, instead, we've simply swung a full 180 and the burning desire to be seen to be anti-Catholic is just as wearisome as when the Church held sway.

Anyone can make an easy pop at the Church, and it's true that the Church usually deserves it, but there is something genuinely mean-spirited and, yes, cowardly, about the way so many people pretend to be edgy when, in fact, they're simply following the herd.

I've no truck with any religion and never have, but people have the right to express their faith as they see fit as long as it's not harming anyone.

Who, pray tell, do ashes harm?

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