Thursday, 3 March 2011
"Chocolat" Lent Course Concerns
Some comments by Fr Dylan James, 1st March 2011
A number of parishioners have expressed concern about the fact that this year’s ecumenical Lent groups are using a book based on the film Chocolat. The course book, Christ and the Chocolaterie. A Lent Course, by Hilary Brand, notes that, “Chocolat could easily be seen as an anti-Lent film” (p.15) because it pits traditional Lenten restraint against chocolate indulgence. The book also notes that, “The film’s philosophy of indulging yourself... very much taps into the spirit of our age”(p.9). It should be noted, however, that the book seeks to use the film as a series of discussion points, and can be usefully used to do this –the book does not aim to use the film as a blueprint for indulgent moral living. Nonetheless, having read the book carefully I think I should note a couple of seriously misleading statements and attitudes it contains:
(1) Jesus and the Apostles taught us to fast
The book makes the misleading claim that, “Christ never commanded his followers to fast... and neither did the apostles”(p.10). Such a statement misrepresents the words and example of Jesus and ignores what history and the Bible record as the practice of the Apostles.
(i) First, Christ taught us to fast by His example:
He fasted for 40 days in the desert (Mt 4:2)
(ii) Second, Christ not only showed us the importance of fasting but taught us how to fast:
“ ‘When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father” (Mt 6:16-18)
(iii) Third, the Gospel shows us that prayer and fasting go together:
“this kind can only be driven out by prayer and fasting” (Mk 9:29)
(iv) Fourth, people sometimes confuse the fact that although Jesus did not have His disciples fast while He was among them He did nonetheless teach that they would fast later:
“Then John’s disciples came and asked him, ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus answered, ‘How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.’” (Mt 9:14-15)
(v) Fifth, the New Testament shows us that the disciples actually did fast after Jesus’ Ascension:
“after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts13:1-3)
“Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord” (Acts 14:23)
(vi) Sixth, we know from historical records outside of the Bible that the Early Church fasted a great deal:
The late 1st Century record of the practice of the early Christians, The Didache [The Teaching of the 12 Apostles], required Christians to fast on many occasions, especially to “fast on Wednesdays and Fridays” (Didache 8). This gives us a clear record of how fasting was very common among the early Christians, and so should be common among us too!
(2) The book and film attack the Church by presenting it as a negative caricature of itself
The film and book repeatedly portray and describe the Church as “traditional, hierarchical and authoritarian” (p.28; 29-30). What neither the book nor the film show us is that the Church and its traditions can be life-giving and the place of our encounter with Christ. Far from tradition being something we should shy away from, the Bible tells us that our Christian “traditions” are something to which we should “hold firm”(2 Thess 2:15). Given that my experience of the Church, her life, and her traditions has been something that has beautifully enabled me to tap into all the riches of 2000 years worth of experience about how to live and about how to know and meet Christ, I am rather saddened to see the Church presented in caricatures like this.
(3) The book’s chocolate recipes for meetings risk introducing self-indulgence into Lent!
If these 3 points are born in mind, and a bit of related common sense, then the course book topics can serve as a useful starting point for discussion –and this is the main intention of the course book.