In a community of eight Capuchin Franciscans, watching TV is an exercise in compromise. Many years ago, it was decided and promulgated by the proper authority that every Monday from 8 to 10 p.m., the friars shall gather to watch "Antiques Roadshow." I had never watched this program before joining my present community, but now I have come to enjoy it. "Antiques Roadshow" is a program on public television hosted by Mark L. Walberg, where people in different cities bring their family artifacts and heirlooms to be appraised. Originally a British program, "Antiques Roadshow" has been on American TV for nearly two decades. I believe its success comes from the combination of historical education and the emotional reactions of both owners and appraisers as they discover the value of various objects.
In the past few weeks of our unusual Monday observance, I've noted five parallels between "Antiques Roadshow" and Lenten spirituality:
1. Taking stock of the past adds value to the present.The appraisers from various auction houses and historical societies inform the owners about the history and methods of manufacture from previous centuries. Both the owners and the audience learn something about an object's provenance and purpose, which gives insight that adds to appreciation. On occasion, they also might learn about distant family members. Appraisers give great historical tidbits and notes on contexts of these items. In the our liturgical calendar, Lent is a time to be honest about past failures, while simultaneously being grateful for the progress made in our on-going conversion.
2. "Noble simplicity" is my favorite phrases from Sacrosanctum Concilium. The document from Vatican II reads, "The rites should be distinguished by a noble simplicity; they should be short, clear, and unencumbered by useless repetitions; they should be within the people's powers of comprehension, and normally should not require much explanation." While the document describes liturgy, I think "Antiques Roadshow" utilizes the same principle. The show has no actors, minimal production quality, and very few breaks. It's probably the only true "reality show" on television. Each segment lasts only a few minutes, focusing on the part when the appraiser gives the owner the essential details and relevant information. "Antiques Roadshow's" unscripted format allows each interaction to be a glimpse into human nature and history. Ash Wednesday uses a simple ash cross (or smudge) as a symbol of repentance, mourning, and death. The principle of simplicity is also reflected in the decor of our churches during Lent.
3. Rediscovering what you already have can spark deeper gratitude for one's inheritance, which has been "handed down" (traditio in Latin). Often we don't have the whole story. Most of us operate on partial or incomplete knowledge of the past. People who bring their artifacts to "Antiques Roadshow" sometimes have a vague idea of an object's history, but they're usually missing a large piece of its background. In church, this is the need for catechesis and deeper praxis. To this end, Lent provides a time for personal archeology. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is the traditional trifecta that encourages us to temporarily cease pampering ourselves to focus on the Lord and the poor.
4. Blemishes are marks of authenticity. In a recent show, there was map of Philadelphia, which appeared to be dated from 1777. The owner was uncertain if the map was authentic. The appraiser pointed out two features that indicated the map's authenticity: crease marks from being folded in an atlas and indentations from the copper pressing. While often times, it may be tempting to avoid or insulate ourselves from the less savory parts of our personal or communal past, the Lord call us to "put out into the deep." When we start to dig up some of our personal and ecclesial archeology, we may be disappointed, embarrassed, and scandalized with the sins of our past. Real authentic healing, however, begins with a recognition of the past and a commitment to the future. Also, appraisers often suggest that a damaged item or piece be repaired or replaced. We all have certain fractures or tears in the fabric of our relationships. Lent is a time to be serious about taking steps towards reparation and amending our lives.
5. Reverence for the other. Some friends at my parish volunteered at "The Roadshow" when it came to in Hartford, Conn., last year. They told me that behind the scenes there are strict rules for volunteers. Volunteers are not permitted to appraise or even touch any of the items that people bring for appraisal. Whether the relic is destined for Sotheby's or fated for a garage sale, each is treated as a potential national treasure. This attitude could be applied to the way we reverence what other people hold dear. Even if an item might not have a high market value, personal significance can transform the commonplace object into a sacramental relic.
To this day, I always have some failures in my Lenten observance. My Lenten let-downs, however, emphasize the very point of the season: Our need for salvation. The core of Catholicism is a connection to the past and a recognition that the Lord calls us in the present to a future of new life. Especially during Lent, we have the opportunity to rediscover the authentic, simple, and tarnished within us, where the Paschal Mystery resides. Let the remainder of Lent be a time of personal appraisal and renewed gratitude.