Ash Wednesday always follows on Mardi Gras. Perhaps suitably so, since a recovery period is usually needed to offset a period of over-indulgence. This arrangement is certainly preferable to having Mardi Gras follow on Ash Wednesday.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of these United States of America, would seem to support this arrangement of having Ash Wednesday follow Mardi Gras, because he authored the well-known aphorism: “An ounce of prevention Is worth a pound of cure”. It is probably those suffering on Ash Wednesday from over-indulgence on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) who come to appreciate from personal experience that Ben Franklin’s observation makes a good deal of sense. They might even take it further and propose that Ash Wednesday should precede Mardi Gras to the point where the misgivings and afflictions following the aftermath of Mardi Gras in the present arrangement would give way to a more sensible kind of enjoyment that is more than worth any effort involved in moderating our celebratory mood.
Of course, ole’ Ben Franklin was not the first one to formulate a memorable reflection on this matter. Someone earlier, in fact, Jesus Christ, taught us this in His prayerful reflection: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. This is an even more venerable admonition about the worth of an ounce of prevention, since avoiding temptation as a more religiously tempered way for achieving prevention is likely more effective than the sheer will-power of deciding to engage in prevention. As we presently do it, of course, Ash Wednesday follows on Mardi Gras when, for many, the damage has been done, and Ash Wednesday simply serves somewhat to offset it.
There is a variation on the parallel of prevention-cure, or temptation-evil, and that is the contrast: feast or famine. But this contrast seems starker than the other two since both feast and famine seem quite extreme in expressing the admitted contrast that terms such as prevention/cure or temptation/evil bring to mind.
One of the arguments used to promote the acceptance of the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) proceeds along a similar line: easier access to medical attention leads to earlier diagnosis of potential health problems and, presumably, to earlier treatment (a version of Ben Franklin’s “prevention” or the Lord’s prayer: “lead us not into temptation”). It is an effort to forestall delays in seeking medical intervention, which is considered a “prevention” approach to health care. Whereas delays can lead to a serious medical conditions developing, early detection can prevent this. As a result, the trips to the emergency room in order to treat medical problems that have developed over time, because undetected, prove, in the long run, to be more expensive than early detection and prevention would be: an ounce of prevention…
But most of us prefer the present arrangement, having our Mardi Gras first, and, then our Ash Wednesday observance, which, as a matter of fact, may at times involve an ambulance trip to the nearest E.R. But ideally an early expenditure of time and effort to avoid the unpleasantness of recovery on an Ash Wednesday seems preferable to a possibly later expense in time and money for gaining a recovery. Foresight in these matters is better than hindsight.
Jesus Himself gained an invaluable lesson, at the very beginning of His public ministry, by spending forty days and nights in the desert, fasting and praying. For there, when approached by the wily evil one and tempted by him, He learned the techniques of survival, and, indeed, victory, that would serve Him well in the three years to follow, and the devil himself came to realize what he was up against in trying to tempt this Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus would indeed enjoy His feasts and banquets in the three years to follow but only because He had learned early on the value of fasting and abstaining. It is not inappropriate to refer to the meals He attended as His Mardi Gras experience, since they were tempered by an Ash Wednesday experience in the desert where He learned the value of an ounce of prevention and gained insight into the workings of temptation.
We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.