As my long-suffering wife will attest, I am somewhat psychotic when it comes to the season of Lent. To me it’s the very heart of the church year. It gives Christians a chance to evaluate what is important in their lives and what isn’t. It is an ancient season dating from the earliest years of the Church.


The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting.  Book of Common Prayer pp 264-5


The 40 days of Lent (Sundays don’t count) also mirror Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness where he was tempted and tested. So Lent is a time of being tested. During our time in the wilderness of Lent, we are admonished by the Church to use these practices in order to keep a Holy Lent: 


  • Self-examination and repentance
  • Prayer
  • Fasting
  • Self-denial
  • Reading and meditating on God’s holy Word


What makes Lent somewhat difficult for me is the task of  discerning how I will use these five disciplines to become more fully human and less wrapped up in myself during Lent. And, of course, it goes without saying that the lessons of a Lent well-lived should inform life post Lent. 


Before I go any further, let me assure you that I am no better at this Lent business than you are. But I might worry about it more! 


If you think I’m about to reveal my Lenten plan for this year, you will be disappointed. We are expressly admonished not to reveal our sacrifices, prayers, etc., by the reading of Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 on Ash Wednesday.  Bragging about one’s Lenten discipline would really negate any discipline one has expended. It is sort of common sense. It’s between you and God — and She is not going to reveal your secrets. 


It occurred to me during my thinking about Lent that it would be wonderful if our nation observed a national Lent. It would be possible to merge the major tenets of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam to come up with common goals for our national Lent. What would we find out about ourselves if we engaged in self-examination and repentance? What would we pray for as a nation? What should we fast from? What should we deny ourselves? What, other than our three great books (Torah, Bible, Koran) should we read and meditate on?  You will have your answers to those questions and I will have mine. The nation would respond with many disparate voices. Some will challenge the need for self-examination and repentance at the outset. 


If you are of the Episcopal or Anglican persuasion, you might be familiar with a sort of prayer, often used in Lent, called a Litany of Penitence. The one we use on Ash Wednesday can be found on pages 267-8 of The Book of Common Prayer. If you don’t have this book, you can find the Litany of Penitence near the end of the Ash Wednesday liturgy online at:


Given my affection for this Litany of Penitence, I thought I might take a stab at writing one appropriate for my proposed national Lenten season. It could be read by the president at a joint session of Congress each Ash Wednesday. Here’s what I came up with.


                                 National Litany of Penitence


We have strayed from the founding principle that all men are created equal and created a society in which being born poor is the surest path to a life of poverty.


Have Mercy on us, Lord


We have neglected the least fortunate among us and robbed them of hope while we have done the bidding of the rich and powerful.


Have Mercy on us, Lord


We have refused to fully acknowledge our great national sin of chattel slavery and ignored its continuing contamination of our national life.


Have Mercy on us, Lord


We have put corporate profits and the interests of the wealthy above the greater good, leading to hardship for the working poor, unequal access to healthcare, the death of the union movement, and government by corporate lobbyists/fundraisers.


Have Mercy on us, Lord


We have allowed gun manufacturers and their lobbyists to turn our country into a shooting gallery where no one is safe and to buy our elected representatives’ votes with the profit from the sale of more guns. 


Have Mercy on us, Lord


We have ignored the imminent peril to our planet caused by global warming in order to enrich the shareholders and executives of the fossil fuel giants.


Have Mercy on us, Lord


Despite being a nation of immigrants we have turned our backs on today’s refugees and immigrants and visited cruel measures on those who come to us for succor.


Have Mercy on us, Lord


We have used our military might to engage in wars that slaughter innocent people and enrich the titans of the military-industrial complex — about which we were warned over a half century ago. 


Have Mercy on us, Lord


Despite our shortcomings we have proclaimed to ourselves and the world that we are the greatest nation in the world and in history, thereby displaying our hubris alongside our ignorance, while revealing that we are without humility. 


Have Mercy on us, Lord


We have denied equal rights to citizens on the basis of their gender or sexual identities, rendering them second-class citizens in their own country.


Have Mercy on us, Lord


We have established a religion — capitalism — that is at odds with our founding principles. There is no separation of this religion from this state. 


Have Mercy on us, Lord




I am certain that some people (maybe most people) will complain that these declarations are too critical of  our great land. And they may be for some. But this is a Litany of Penitence, like the one we say on Ash Wednesday; so it is a litany of things for which we repent! It is not the time to pat ourselves on the back. Of course there are great things to say about our country. For one, it’s a great place to be rich!

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About Buck Close

Deacon Buck Close serves on the staff of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Newport, RI. He was born in South Carolina, graduated from Tulane University in 1972 with a BA in Economics and Latin American Studies.

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