Driving off to work after attending the early Mass at Carmel, I saw a giant pint of beer floating in the sky - no, I hadn't had an attack of the D.T.'s; to-day is Launceston's "premier social event" (as The Examiner put it this morning), the Launceston Cup, and presumably said cunning balloon was an advertisement (how inappropriate given our local newspaper also reporting on various places of refreshment deciding to close early rather than deal with rude inebriates "partying on" after the races).
Furthermore, this afternoon, having left work, I was breathalysed on the way home by a posse of police (and of course was let pass on my lawful way); later, once I'd bought a coffee and read a few other newspapers (I like to read the Herald-Sun and The Australian, plus occasionally The Mercury - Hobart's daily), upon leaving the café to go back to my car I saw a policewoman dealing with two young ladies, all tizzed up for the Cup, who were sitting on the asphalt looking rather the worse for wear (I trust they'll be alright). How glad I am my place of work did not close for the half-day holiday!
What a contrast between the worthily revered solemnities of fasting begun this day with appropriate piety, that the great race be run with secure devotion by the faithful who beg God's aid (cf. Collect of Ash Wednesday), and the gaudy, even tawdry glitter of a provincial racemeeting with its associated excessive imbibing, constituting one trusts at best some innocent pastime - what a contrast between the sacred and the secular. There were about 40-odd laity at Carmel for the 7.30am sung Mass (the carpark was overflowing); who knows what crowds were at the racetrack this afternoon?
"A vain hope for safety is the horse; despite its power, it cannot save." (Ps 32:17) "Some trust in chariots or horses, but we in the Name of the Lord." (Ps 19:8) - How wise is David! And how wise, Solomon:
Vanitas vanitatum, et omnia vanitas.
(Ecclesiastes i, 2 & xii, 8)
Perhaps it would be wise for this phrase to be in our minds as we receive the blessed penitential ashes at the liturgy this solemn day: "Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity".
I recall that Jeremy Taylor, or some such Anglican Divine, recommended the reading of Ecclesiastes (or St Gregory the Wonderworker's metaphrase thereof) for Lent, as a healthful antidote to the drugging effect of the vain pomps of our passing world: we ought wake up to what's really real, and what is but mist and shadow.
The last verses of Ecclesiastes (xii, 13-14):
Let us all hear together the conclusion of the discourse. Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is all [i.e., the whole business and duty of] man: and all things that are done, God will bring into judgement for every error, whether it be good or evil.