Pieter Brueghel the Elder, “The Fight Between Carnival and Lent,” 1559
Sometimes when the spiritual and the secular clash, we can see the hand of God at work. In Pieter Brueghel’s The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, there is a clash of contrasts happening in this 16th-century Dutch village. Near the center of the hustle and bustle a curious pair is ready to spar: “Carnival,” represented by a well-endowed man riding a barrel, wears a meat-pie hat and is ready for action with a spear loaded with roasted pork. “Lent” faces him, personified by a clear-eyed but gaunt woman on a spare cart, wearing a beehive and holding out two fish on a peel. She is surrounded by loaves, pretzels, and a basket of mussels.
This encounter divides the scene in two. Behind Carnival we see merriment. Lent emerges from the church. The statues there are covered; a priest hears confession—the season has begun.
Our eye is drawn to the well in the center. A woman there catches her reflection in the water. It’s a moment of stillness and clarity in this busy scene. The well is evocative of Baptism. The woman invites us to self-examination just as Lent invites us all back to the font to become more fully who we are in Christ.
As this woman reflects, the three figures on the other side of the well take a different course. We see a couple following a jester with a torch. They are following a false light, one that obscures their path. The man’s heavy burden and the woman’s dark lamp are symbols that they are heading down the wrong path.
On this first day of Lent, we don ashes and hear the call to return to the Lord. The path of this return can seem daunting, intimidating. Looking inward like the woman at this well can mean taking a hard look at everything that keeps us from living life to the fullest. It is easier to avoid this and follow the jester to false lights and worldly distractions. Yet we’re reassured: “Gracious and merciful is the Lord, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.”
What seems like a hard look may be a healing gaze inward—if we trust in the Lord.
Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, assistant professor of liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization at Loyola University New Orleans.
In the section about Lent in Finding God, Grade 8 (The Year in Our Church, page 233), young people are reminded Lenten commitments may seem easier to keep when we perform them in solidarity with others. Young people are asked to agree to choose someone in their life to be their Commitment Buddy and to agree to check in with each other at least once a week to see how their Lenten commitments are going. Young people are encouraged to be honest during their check-in reports and are invited to support one another with congratulations, encouraging notes, texts, or e-mails throughout the week.
For catechists and teachers
Say: Ash Wednesday is a day for preparing for your Lenten commitment. Remind young people that sometimes it will be easier to slip into “Carnival” mode but it is just as important to remember the “Lent” side of the season. Encourage young people to emulate Brueghel’s woman at the well and reflect on their choices this Lent. Invite Commitment Buddies to share their thoughts on this during their check-ins.