Lent Day 8: Can’t Go Wrong Saint Books

PSA because the question came up today: If you want a good readable saint book, you won’t go wrong with Pauline Media’s “Encounter the Saints” series.  They are written for about 5th – 6th grade, but I thoroughly enjoy them and find them edifying for myself.  It takes about an hour for an adult left alone to read one book in silence. There’s usually a glossary at the back for any Catholic vocabulary words that you might not know.

I am unclear on why I only own about a dozen of these.  Need to rectify that.

 

Saint Teresa of KolkataSaint Catherine Labouré and Our LadySaint Gianna Beretta Molla: The Gift of Life

Saint Damien of Molokai -- Hero of HawaiiSaint Maximilian Kolbe -- Marys KnightSaint Isaac Jogues -- With Burning Heart

Artwork courtesy of Pauline Media.

 

Lent Day 7: Evangelizing Key Chains

I have a guest membership at the local Baptist mega-church’s gym.  Before you get scandalized, a “guest” membership means you are not a member of the church.  It lets you use the gym, walking track, and exercise classes, and lets your child attend certain activities that require a gym membership.  It costs $10 the first year and $5 thereafter.

The extra $5 the first year is because you receive a bar code membership tag to put on your key chain, which you check in with when you arrive.  The YMCA has a similar system.  So do grocery stories: You use the loyalty-program membership card to earn rewards either for yourself or the school of your choice, depending on the grocery store.

Last week when I handed over my keys to the oil change guys, there flashed Local Mega Baptist Church.

My gym membership card doesn’t specify what kind of member I am — I suppose if I became a proper member of the congregation, I’d keep my card and just upgrade my status.  (I won’t though — not going to forsake my birthright for unlimited access to the weight room.)

Today when I stopped at the downtown specialty grocery store after dropping off the 5th grader at St. Urban’s, I again handed over my keys in order get my store loyalty-points.  Once again: LM Baptist.

I feel a little bad about this, because sometime I am impatient and cranky at the oil change place.  Sometimes I am not the picture of extroverted cheerfulness at the grocery store.   It makes the Baptists look bad.  I’m sorry, Baptists.  Thank you for letting me use your gym anyway.

File:Ehrenstetten - Ölbergkapelle6.jpg  - Small, picturesque chapel among the hills of vinyards in either southwestern Germany or northeastern France, depending on which unreliable image-description you believe.

Photo: By Taxiarchos228 (Own work) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons.  I don’t know if I belong to this church or not.  I was unable to easily get hold of the particulars.  But I might.  I belong to this giant mega church with all these locations spread around the world, nearly every one of them containing people as cranky as I am.

Lent Day 6: Purple Shirts

Yesterday as I came out of Mass, a friend of mine noticed I was all Lenten in my purple shirt.

I died a little death.

I have an irrational dislike of being matchy-matchy with the liturgical season.  (I don’t care what other people wear.  It’s just me I think about — you’ve long suspected that, I’m sure.)

The difficulty is that I got three new purple shirts last fall, and they are my favorite shirts.  If I’m going to wear a shirt that is not stained or faded or both, it’s 50-50 on the odds that shirt might be purple.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  I like my purple shirts as much as I like my black shirts.  They match my purple watch and my purple glasses (which I updated for black glasses, heh) and my purple book and everything.  I like purple.

It is not my fault that the Church likes purple, too.

So I decided Sunday morning that I’d get over my irrational aversion and just wear the purple turtleneck and suck it up.  I was very hoping no one would notice, but obviously someone did.

There is no deep spiritual meaning to any of this.  Some things that happen in Lent have no deep meaning, they just are.

***

PS: My link above to my 2015 discussion of this issue includes some comments on penance on St. Patrick’s day.  As this year’s feast does fall on a Friday, you’ll have to consult your bishop to find out your options.  There’s not one single answer for the whole US, let alone the whole world.

File:Peter Alsop with cat on head.jpg

Photo:By Moose School Productions (http://peteralsop.com/gallery/peters-headshots) [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.  I have no idea whether you should like Peter Alsop or not.  I know that I liked his purple shirt photo best, of all the viable choices on Wikimedia.

Lent Day 5: Cheesecake??

As Scott Reeves explains so well, Lent is more than just a self-help program.  That said, if you aren’t going to gather up the fortitude to reckon with your near occasions of sin during Lent, when will you?

That is the rationale behind our resolution to eliminate extraneous sugar from the family diet.  We theorize, but aren’t certain, that at least one of our children would benefit from a diet with relatively less sugar and relatively more fat, protein, and complex carbohydrates; we suspect that making that transition will improve the mental health of everyone, directly and indirectly; thus it’s a switch that, we think, will make it easier for all of us to become more like the people God created us to be.

That’s the hypothesis.  We’re testing it during Lent because honestly it’s hard to make yourself give up something good, easy, and pleasant when you aren’t even sure it matters.

With that in mind, SuperHusband went to Costco.

“Please don’t bring home more of those yogurt things,” I asked him before he left.  Yogurt in itself is not a problem food, but the individual servings of flavored yogurts the kids devour like starved goatherds come with a piles of extra sugar.

“But [certain child with low appetite] loves them, and they’re mostly healthy,” SuperHusband observed.

“Well, just look at the nutrition information and do the best you can,” I said.

So he and our reluctant eater went off to Costco and came home with . . . cheesecake.

Um, darling?  Lent?

Outside of the penitential seasons, we always get some kind of good treat for Sundays.  But during Advent and Lent I tend to scale back — not a hard and fast rule, mind you, but let’s just say that a giant tray of cheesecake is more Easter-Christmas-Birthday than Sackcloth-and-Ashes.

SuperHusband explained: “I looked at all the nutritional information, and this one had the best fat-to-sugar ratio of just about anything.  A bazillion times better than those yogurts.”

I believe him.  We’d acquired this particular cheesecake a few weeks ago for a birthday party, and it was noticably better than typical, and it was not overly-sweet at all.  Very much in the real-food category of convenience items.

Okay, then.  My goal isn’t to satisfy some preconceived image of what is and is not “penitential” enough to satisfy the St. Joneses.  My goal is to meet the unusual but pressing nutritional needs of one of our children.   Cheesecake to fulfill our Lenten resolution it is.

 

File:Raised slice- 10-18-15.jpg - Picture of a whole cheesecake with one slice removed and being held up by the spatula.
You want to know what penance is? Scrolling through Wikimedia looking for just the right picture of cheesecake . . . and not eating any of your kids’ cake sitting in the fridge. No need for a hair shirt here, thank you.

 By Sirabellas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Lent Day 4: The Chicken of Vengeance

SuperHusband prays morning and night prayer per iBreviary, and when I’m around I pray along with him.  Usually he does the bulk of the reading and I get the responses, but this morning he is hoarse with a wicked sore throat, so I was the reader.

It’s a different experience.  When he reads, I get to sit back and listen and my thoughts can range over the psalms as they come my way.  As the person responsible for pronouncing all the words, in contrast, there’s no time for anything but quick thoughts.  Unlike lectoring, especially for a big event, where you take time ahead to pray over the readings and practice them a bit, morning prayer is dashed off on the spot.  Unlike praying one of the hours by yourself in silence, when there’s someone else waiting on you, you can’t just stop and ponder at will.

You get one shot at the reading, cold, no stops.

Another difference is that when an idea strikes you, it strikes and sticks and there’s no considering just how apt it is, because you’ve got to keep moving.  But the imagery can be quite vivid.  For example: Chickens.

The verse that got me was this:

Though the wicked spring up like grass and all who do evil thrive:
they are doomed to be eternally destroyed.

Our Lent down South takes place during true spring.  Plum trees are in blossom, azaleas are working on it, the camellias of winter are fading away and the daffodils are long since awakened.  The early grasses are bright and vigorous and lush, though they’ll give way in a few months to the stubbornly invasive weed-grasses of summer.  All year long, the various grasses take their turns at conquest.

But they cannot withstand the ravages of the chicken.

If a chicken decides she wants a square a dirt, that square of dirt she will have, and everything in it.  The chicken does not care what your plans are.  The chicken landscapes as she will, and if you wish to make her cooperate with your plans, you’d best set firm boundaries delineating which earth is hers and which is yours.

And so, reading this morning, I could not help, of course, to imagine the Avenging Angel as a chicken.  They’re both winged.  They are both, to their prey, a fearsome specter.  If ever a great chicken comes to destroy you, be afraid.

A chicken in the background on dirt, separated by heavy fencing from a bed of lush grass in the foreground.
Chicken prison. Because she may not have my strawberries.

My Fish is More Penitential Than Your Fish

Is your fish penitential enough?

I’m not sure to what extent my friends are joking and to what extent they are serious, but that’s what they’re talking about.  Such-and-such lenten-compliant food is far too good be considered a penance.  You must eat this-and-so instead!

No.

No, no, no, and no.

If your idea of being a good Catholic is to find a way to thwart the spirit of the law by wallowing in luxury, you have problems.  Your problems will not be fixed by a greasy fish sandwich.

What the Church asks is that we abstain from meat on Fridays, done.  That’s the law.  What she also asks is that we take on a spirit of penitence throughout the season of Lent, with particular attention to Fridays and perhaps some relaxation on Sundays, depending.  That’s the pastoral guidance.

If you find abstaining from meat to be easy, congratulations.  The way is wide open for you to take on other more rigorous disciplines.

If you find abstaining from meat to be difficult, give it your best.  It’s not fair, perhaps, that this particular discipline is so much more difficult for you than it is for other people, but then again the crosses of this life never are distributed exactly the same to each one.  If you are overwhelmed by the rigors of Lenten abstinence, speak to your pastor.  Seek advice particularly if you have some medical reason you probably should not abstain, but you aren’t quite sure.  The Church isn’t seeking to sink you.

So what about lobster and sushi?

Let’s back up and ask ourselves: Is it acceptable to eat such luxuries on other days of the year?

The answer, I maintain, is that it depends.  Now if you observe a life of solidarity with the poor to such an extent that you would never eat such a thing, then you surpass me exceedingly and I don’t really know why you are reading this blog.  Please carry on with your devotion and do not let me dissuade you.

If, at the other extreme, you are a thoroughly wretched creature, devoted to nothing but your own pleasure from moment to moment, and that is what motivates your eating of lobster and sushi and gold-crusted cheeses carried on the backs of famished peasants who crawl through tunnels and tiptoe around lava pits to bring you the rarest and most precious of delicacies . . . how about you have a fish sandwich just to see what it’s like?

Said more seriously: Don’t delude yourself into thinking that observing the letter of the law is a Get Out of Hell Free pass.  (There is such a thing, but it doesn’t involve eating lobster. Or fish sandwiches.)

Those of us who live in the middle have to exercise the virtue of prudence concerning our own plates, and the virtue of Minding Your Own Business concerning the plates of others.  While we ought not excuse ourselves too lightly from the rigors of penance, there are any number of reasons that on some Friday in Lent the eating of a relatively luxurious item might in fact be entirely consistent with a sound spiritual life.

–> To evaluate, take into account both the particular circumstances of the meal at hand and the context of your Lenten observances overall.

  • Do you have other better choices?
  • Is this a special occasion?
  • Do you even get to choose the menu, or are you at someone else’s mercy?
  • Are you making a suitable effort to be penitential this Lent?
  • Or are you just cruising along all week with no regard for the spirit of the season?
  • Is this item in fact a gratuitous luxury compared to your other options, or does it just have that reputation as a byword?

But in all cases, you are only evaluating your personal spiritual life.  I hope you do that all year.

Related:

Scott Reeves has an excellent post on what penance is, and why and how it helps us.

And from me . . .

Lenten Tactics: Thwarting the Meat Demon

More Strategizing for Meatless Fridays

About the Required Penances – Some thoughts on the differences between the Catholic and Orthodox approaches to Lent, and the value of each.

 

File:Thomas Morus Franz van den Wyngaerde.jpg

Artwork: The patron saints of careful distinctions. Via Wikimedia [Public Domain].

Lent Day 3: Put a Raincoat on It

Something we are doing this Lent is cutting out extraneous sugar from the family diet.  (Why?  Not to lose weight.  I’m the only chubby member of the family, and I don’t eat all that much junk food.  But we’ve noticed that some of the castle residents tend to be more emotionally volatile when they are living from snack to snack, and thought that peace in the home was worth attempting.)

There’s not a hard-and-fast rule to that resolution, but there are some obvious changes.  Don’t stop for donuts as a way of rewarding the kids for meritorious behavior, for example.  One of the chief challenges is that the children are all enthusiastic chefs, and several of them specialize in variations on pastry chef.

Therefore I had to confiscate the sugar.

If I didn’t, they’d go on quietly creating delectable baked goods whenever the parents weren’t looking.  They  might not even do it out of defiance — it’s just a habit.  So I took the sugar canisters from the open shelves in the kitchen and stowed them in a laundry basket in the parents’ bedroom (double Lent: that room is already cluttered enough without adding “pantry” to its list of responsibilities).

Next I had to take the chocolate chips.  Mid-morning Ash Wednesday I find a child happily creating chocolate candies.  “They aren’t for today!” she chided me solemnly.  How dare I question her penitence, sheesh?  So I added the canister of open chocolate chips to the laundry basket, and later found the resupply of chocolate chips* in the laundry room cabinets and put those in the basket too, because otherwise children would take the initiative to fix the Lenten inventory problem in the kitchen.

So now in my bedroom I’ve got a basket full of sugar and chocolate chips — really good chocolate chips, not those sorry ones that are mostly corn syrup.   Really, really, good chocolate chips.  In my bedroom.  Staring at me as I walk in after dropping a child off for an internship, on a Friday morning when I’m pretty hungry and trying to be virtuous but have not had breakfast, and did I mention they are really, really, good chocolate chips?

So thank goodness not-my-truck needed an oil change and so I had to switch vehicles with the spouse so I could take care of that this afternoon, and therefore I had to empty my junk out of the truck before he went to work, and that meant, as I was being reined in by the siren song of especially, wondrously, notoriously good chocolate chips, that I had a raincoat slung over my arm.  I was going to hang up the raincoat in the closet, since it’s a sunny day and I thought I wouldn’t be needing it.

But you know what needs a raincoat on it?  A basket full of chocolate chips.  And then I don’t have to look at temptation, glowing in the rays of springtime — Lenten — sunshine every time I go to my room.

Thank you, raincoat.  Thank you, oil change.  No thank you, chocolate chips.

 

Four umbrellas against a wood backdrop.

Photo via Wikimedia [Public Domain].

*The reason I have an inventory of chocolate chips is because we prefer, when possible, to acquire them from Equal Exchange or some similarly reputable source.  Since we live in the South, we can only mail-order chocolate during the cold months.  It’s practically pioneer living, you know.

Lent Day 2: Coffee Date? #LentProblems

A friend and I have been meaning to get together to chat for a few weeks now. This morning over breakfast I pulled out the calendar and added her to my to-do list for March, then headed over to Facebook to message her ASAP before I forgot:

Hey – do you have an opening coming up for a cup of coffee or tea or something?

Or something.  Dagnabbit I have no idea what you gave up for Lent, girl!  It could be coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate, lunch dates . . . no clue.

The Forty Days of Complicated Socializing begins.

File:Washington Coffee New York Tribune.JPG

Image by New York Tribune, circa 1919 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lent Day 1: Father Gonzo Makes His Mark

1.1 This morning, an unwary child says: “I haven’t decided what to give up for Lent.”

Evil Dictator: “Not to worry.  I’ve got you covered.”

Between cutting out extraneous sugar and sending us all to bed on time, child, it’s gonna be a long Lent.  But a calm one, so we hope.

1.2 A different, diligent little Catholic bear, was determined to set a fixed penance.  “What if I give up Netflix and Amazon?”

“What’s your goal?” Evil Dictator inquires.

Discussion ensues.  Child finally resolves, after taking advice, to write on her card to turn in at school: “I will give up all TV and movies, with the exception of shows my parents or teacher tell me to watch.”

1.3 Good problems: And your Catholic school student wants you to come to the school Mass in the morning, which is always very good . . . and your spouse and your boy are going to be singing Allegri’s Misere Mei Deus at the evening service.  Here’s an abridged version:

Another version, unabridged, and with girls in it:

So yes, I went to both.  Ashes and Holy Communion at Mass #1, and then sat back and enjoyed the music and prayed along at Mass #2.

1.5 My school child wasn’t so keen to double-dip, and asked if maybe I could require her to watch a little Netflix while I was at the second Mass.  Well, darling, funny you should mention that.  Evil Dictator’s got quite the talent for finding all the kids’ French-language videos on YouTube, and that’s something you need to be watching over the next few months.

I pulled up tabs of French-language entertainment and . . . she read books instead.  Her English is gonna be excellent before Lent is out.

1.6 So I show up at church for Mass #2 and Father Gonzo takes a look at me and says: “Did I do that?!”

Jen with massive black ashen cross on her forehead.
I sure didn’t do this to myself.

“Yes you did.”  And let me say: There’s nothing like walking around all day with Father’s Revenge, as the guidebook calls it, to bring out all the evidence of your horrid inner disposition.

40 days to get my act together.  Or forty seconds, everyone’s hoping.

Lent for Slackers

This is a post for people who tend to be too lax with themselves.  We’ll start by kicking out those of you who don’t belong here.

If you are prone to scruples . . . don’t read this post. Go make an appointment with your pastor for a five-minute consultation.  Write down your plans for Lent, get him to sign off on that, tape your list to your fridge, and DON’T ADD A THING.

You may sprinkle on bits of supererogatory penance on your better Lenten days if the opportunity presents itself, but that’s pure bonus and you have to both (A) congratulate yourself for those days and (B) knock it off if your hot Lenten super days are wearing you down and making it too hard on ordinary days to do the thing you and your pastor agreed would be your thing.

That’s it.  Get out of here.

PS: If your pastor is a totally namby-pamby, flakey-wakey, wishy-washy cuddle puddle who wouldn’t know penance if it scourged him with briars . . . that’s God choosing to really lay it on you this Lent.  When Fr. Laxalot looks at your list of planned prayers and fasting and tells you that what he really needs is for you to smile during the sign of peace as your Lenten act of self-denial, honey you just do that. Tape it to your fridge.

If your life is inherently penitential . . . this post isn’t really for you, either.  But you can take a look, as long as you promise not to scruple.  Otherwise, it’s off to meet with Fr. Laxalot.

Slackers Quit Slacking

So there are people you know who glance at Lent and announce that The Really Important Thing conveniently does not include prayer, penance, and almsgiving.

Now let us agree, the Really Important Thing is you responding to God’s grace and accepting His gift of salvation and all that goes with.  Absolutely.  But you are a timebound meat-creature, so the ethereal glance towards Heaven is not something you are quite ready to sustain.  Your body and soul are inseparably glued together like a PB&J sandwich that’s been sitting on the dash of the car on a summer afternoon; therefore you must do things with your body now if you want to shine up your soul so it can embrace the beatific vision when the time comes.

Let us also acknowledge that if you are bitter, nasty, ungrateful wretch with seven mortal sins you commit before breakfast, you’ve got some rough work to blast through before getting to the fine-tuning.  Do please orient your Lent towards knocking off at least the most egregious outer layer so we can get to the deeper stuff in future years.

Furthermore, let us note that once the big crust of visible nastiness has been mostly brushed away, it’s possible that what we find inside is a festering wound of putrid moral ugliness.  In all likelihood you are so accustomed to the stench you don’t even notice.  Telltale Sign: You create complicated explanations about why your life doesn’t match the things Jesus says to do, but hey that’s okay!  It’s not okay.

Jesus came to save you from your sins, not to explain that drowning in the mire is just fine too.

Prayer, penance, and almsgiving are the physical tools God gives us, by His gift of unfathomable Grace, to help us not want to drown in the mire quite so much.

Prayer

Prayer takes many forms, but Not Praying isn’t one of them.

Please do not tell me that your work is your prayer.  No darling.  Your work is your work.  Your prayer is your prayer.  It may be that your state in life does not allow for the type of prayer you especially prefer or admire, but actual prayer is the thing we’re going for here.  Examples:

  • Prayerfully reading the day’s Mass readings.
  • Attending Mass and praying through it.
  • Adoring the Lord present in the Holy Eucharist.
  • Praying one of the hours of the Divine Office.
  • Prayerfully reading your Bible.
  • Praying the Rosary.  (Tips here.)
  • Praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
  • Praying the Jesus Prayer.
  • Praying some shorter (or longer) prayer that fits the occasion.
  • Setting aside a certain amount of time, alone and unbothered, to become aware of the presence of God and then converse with Him.
  • If you like to write: Prayerfully conversing with God via conversation with Him in a private journal.

There are other ways of course, but you get the idea.

You cannot pray all the prayers.  You must discern and choose.  I am well aware that there are times in life when your work or your vocation or your health does not allow you to pray as fully as you otherwise would.  But if you can read this post, you can definitely pray.

Penance

If you have big sins you’re trying to shed, penance can run two ways.  If your sin is something like using porn or committing slow suicide with your cigarette habit, then this particular Lent you might take on the “penance” of quitting that habit, stat.  It’s actually a gift to yourself, not a punishment, but such gifts can own you for a long while, and one can only do so much at a time.

On the other hand, if your persistent sin is something like wrath, or lust, or gluttony, there’s a point when cold turkey can’t happen.  Once you’ve eliminated the obvious don’t-or-die items, you’re left with a pile of wriggling worms of naughtiness that are constantly evading capture.  Fasting in its various forms, as well as acts of overt self-mortification (cold showers, for example), are the tools that fight sin and save lives.

Conveniently, if you take up such a penance you get a double-bonus: The miracles that are wrought by the combination of prayer and penance will flow both outward towards others and inward towards your soul.

Offering it up.  If your life comes with a significant built-in penance, then a reasonable Lenten resolution is to live out that God-ordained amount of suffering with a prayerful disposition.  This post was not for you, but there you go.

For those of you who are, in contrast, perfectly capable of additional acts of self-denial, don’t delude yourself.  You will not become a nicer person by resolving to be a nicer person.  You will become a more charitable person by training yourself, through self-denial, that it is not necessary to indulge your every whim.

Almsgiving

Sometimes people say, “Rather than giving up something for Lent, you can take up something for Lent.”  Certainly true, but if you are a slacker, you know very well how easily you can turn that observation into a shadow-play of Doing Nothing.

Slacker friends, let’s raise the bar one more: When you take on works of charity, don’t deceive yourself into Not Actually Giving.

If you have money to give, give it.  Give it freely and generously.  If you are the widow in the parable, this post was not for you.  This post is for those of you who so easily persuade yourself you are that widow, when really you’re the guy walking by the money box not even bothering to drop in a few coins.

Almsgiving is the triple whammy:

  • It is an act of self-denial, hence it works like a penance.
  • It teaches you to trust in God, because you are giving up your means of saving yourself.
  • It does some good for the recipient.

Most of us stink at it even more than we stink at fasting, and you know we pretty much stink at fasting, too.  If you are a person with significant wealth, you are far more likely to succeed at prayer and fasting than you are to succeed at almsgiving.

About those Poor People

Let me say a crazy thing, and you stay calm until you’ve read the details: Please don’t take on the works of mercy for Lent.  The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are your duty all year long.

It may well be that since you have no money to give, but you do have physical strength and free time, taking on one of the works of mercy will in fact be your best way of almsgiving.  Furthermore, taking on a work of mercy is often the necessary counterpart to a penance — if you don’t fill the void with something good, you’ll only go and fill it with a fresh vice.  Finally, if you are not currently practicing the works of mercy, or your life has changed so that you are now free to carry out works that were heretofore not open to you, please, take them on!

So it may in fact be best if you take up a work of mercy this Lent.  But slacker friends, do not say to yourself, “Oh yes, I feed the homeless every Lent!” or “Oh yes, I visit the sick every Advent!”  Love of neighbor is not a seasonal activity.  Take note of your spiritual gifts and the opportunities that your state in life allows, and do not shove off your portion of Christian charity on your fellow parishioners.

Chances are you stink at this even worse than you stink at prayer, penance, and almsgiving — and don’t even know it.  Love of neighbor flows from love of God.  Work on the Big Three this Lent, and the works of mercy should be the obvious fruit of your repentance and return to God.

File:Battistero 1.jpg

I searched Wikimedia for “camels” and came up with this.  More Lenten than you might think.  Giusto de’ Menabuoi – Re magi – Battistero del Duomo di Padova, fresco circa 1376 – 1378.