Easter Report: Five Good Things

#1 Fr. Gonzo finishes strong. I probably shouldn’t call him that, it might encourage him.  The man who gave me this thing forty-something days ago decided to launch, his words, the “Mother of All Easter Vigils.”  If that man left out even a single speck or jot of an option, as found or legitimately inferred in ye olde Roman Missal, please, not a word.  Also next year, I’m having a nap and a cup of coffee before the vigil.  Or else just doing like last year and going to the Sunday evening Easter Mass, which was quite nice and ought to be offered more widely.

#2 There was a bacon accident.  Sometimes people are like, “Oh you’re a homeschooler? Could you make me a craft and a casserole?” These are the very same people who would squirm if I said, “Oh you work in an office?  Could you make me a 1040x and a manuscript proposal?”  So anyway, I tried making bacon in the oven Sunday morning, and I did it by following the directions on the package.  More or less.

The difficulty is that it came out perfect.

Perfect bacon is cooked to the point of extreme crispiness, just short — but nearly to the point — of crumbing at an untoward glance.

Sadly, the man I married and many of our offspring are under the impression that bacon is meant to be sort of chewy and moist.  I’m okay with that.  All bacon is good to me.  I will totally put on my inner St. Therese and eat wet bacon.  No problem.  Canonize me now.

But I accidentally cooked the bacon too long, and it was extremely, very, astonishingly good.  The difficulty is that there wasn’t any spare bacon to undercook for the other people, and that was kind of sad.  I’m open to continuing practice on this art until I nail it.  Eight weeks of Easter calling my name.

#3 First child trained in the ways of the IRS! It’s pleasant having Easter after the taxes go in.  I literally dropped off four envelopes at the post office on the way over to the Vigil.  Mr. Boy got A Real Job last summer, which means he had a real tax return (two – one federal, one state) this spring.  I had him do the process step by step on his own, and then I’d check it and show him what he did wrong (if anything — a 1040EZ isn’t that hard, even if it’s more complicated than it used to be), and he’d fix it, and we’d move on to the next thing.

It is well worthwhile to start doing your taxes on your own right from the beginning, and to keep with it year after year as things slowly get more complicated.  Pays off in the long run.

#4 Fedex is a wondrous thing.  It’ll be three kids and I on the big trip this summer, and I ordered those three some useful books to prep for the trip and work on their French.

FYI of all the suppliers I found, Decitre.Fr had the best deal on international shipping if you’re looking at many low-budget books rather than one expensive book.  Each kid received a book on the Mass. The boy received two history books and an atlas.  The girls each received a coloring book on Alsace (primary destination), a second coloring book on a relevant topic (history for one, all-things-Christian-faith for the other — between the two, they’ll have encountered most museum, historical site, and art-related vocab), and a book of personal interest for motivating the reading practice (cats or rabbits).

I went with cheap books because I wanted them physically light and compact, and intellectually not too intimidating.  That also allowed for a slight overflow on the order, so duds could be culled and everyone still get good books.  –> Not true duds, but a couple of the books that looked nice on the internet turned out to be either too little-kid or else too difficult for a beginning student of the language; I set those aside for me.

Anyhow, on international orders there’s not an option (with Decitre) to have books sent in sub-packages, and I knew a few of the books would take a couple weeks to be ready to ship.  So when I got the shipping notice Spy Wednesday, I figured it would be a late Easter?  Nope.  Packaged Wednesday morning, queued at CDG by Wednesday evening, onto a plane and into my local Fedex office Thursday morning.  I went out for a walk Thursday morning, and as I was coming back to my yard at 9AM the Fedex mini-van showed up with a package for me to sign.

You didn’t used to be able to get foreign books this easily.  I like the modern world.

#5 Journaling Bibles.  So that left one child with no books in her basket, because: Poor planning.  The Easter Bunny was pretty pleased she’d gotten to Aldi to pick up Not-Slave-Labor chocolate, thanks.  So then the bunny remembered this argument from a month earlier.  The girl is in the FCA at school, and apparently all her friends have “journaling” or “notetaking” Bibles.  These are Bibles with wide margins or other white space where you can essentially illuminate your own manuscript.

Could she have one for Confirmation please?  And how about right now, so the Holy Spirit can get to work ASAP?

The difficulty is this: Apparently Catholics have given up on illuminating, or else we just don’t publish trend-Bibles — I’m sure our publishers are full of good excuses for the lapse.  The situation is bad enough that Catholic Icing has a great tutorial about how to convert your Catholic Bible into a journaling Bible by covering up the footnotes with bits of paper.

A girl I know does not want to cover up footnotes with bits of paper

Thus in the spirit of Easter is For Heretics, Too, I caved.  On the way home from Costco with all the Easter food, I did check my local Catholic bookstore to see if there was something, anything, that I could pass off as a journaling Bible, but no dice.  (There are lots of great Catholic Bibles out there, by the way.  Just not ones for coloring in.)  But after that, into the breach: Walmart for Bible-shopping it would be.

[Sheesh, guys, I’m buying some unapproved-translation, books-missing Bible for coloring in, I’m not shelling out a lot of money on this, really??]

Walmart is smarter than a Catholic publisher.  They carry a mass-market, paperback version the HCSB Illustrator’s Notetaking Bible, and it’s easy to find if you go to the book section — shelved both with Bibles and with adult coloring books, since it’s both a Bible and a coloring book.  The inside looks like this:

My child wasn’t looking for one that was pre-illustrated, but we both secretly like it.  Some of the illustrations are very apropos, such as the image of Christ Crucified in the margins next to Isaiah’s Suffering Servant prophecy.  I could do without Mary With Rosy Cheeks, but Catholics have done far worse to the Blessed Mother and somehow the Church still stands.

My teenager spent her afternoon working on her Bible.  Her younger sister said, “We should have brought these to that retreat last month!”  I think I can work with this trend.

Easter Egg Wreath by #3.  Leaving a child alone with a hot glue gun has its advantages.  For more on the cost of becoming a Pinterest Parent, see here. Okay, I see the photos aren’t loading anymore.  I’ll fix that and update. [Update: Okay – all fixed now, I hope!]  The text explains the less-pretty parts of the crafting life. 

 

A Love Fully Human and Fully Divine

I always have trouble when Christians say, “Jesus had to die on the cross in order to save us.”  It makes me think: I suspect God could have saved us however He liked.

But He did it this way, so here we are.

Humans are thick about the nature of God.  You’ve just been created out of dust and given domain over the earth, and yet you’re unclear on God meaning what He said when He told you not to eat that one fruit.  Never mind ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptian army — did God really say . . .?

The Godliness of God is hard for us to grasp.

Even harder, judging from the pagan pantheons and our own understandable tendency to despair in the face of so much evil, is believing that God is good.  The gods of myth are fickle and self-serving; they come to our aid when it suits their own cause, not ours.

Thus the Incarnation.  Here comes God in the form of a man, which the mythical gods have done in their way, but this one is different.  This one loves the way that men love when they are very, very good men.

Mostly we humans like to push off thinking too carefully about love, because what we want is for the satisfaction of the present moment’s desire to be counted as “good enough.” But we do know real live goodness when we see it.  We honor the sacrifices of those who have given of themselves for others.  We know deep in our hearts that the very best people, the ones who embody Goodness itself, are those who care entirely about others and don’t consider what it might cost to give, they just give.

We know that.

And we’re not very bright about what God is like, so it is helpful for us to see that when God is a man, He loves the way that the very best men love.

***

There were good men living in the time of Jesus, just like there are good men living now.  Men who were heroic in their willingness to do what others needed them to do, in the mission of love and justice and mercy.  The Samaritan.  St. Joseph.  St. John the Baptist.  No doubt others as well.

Pontius Pilate was given the chance to be a heroic man.  His wife had been warned in a dream concerning Jesus, and passed on that message to her husband: Don’t mess with this guy.  Let him go.  Gentleman, recall that you chose your wife for this purpose. You elected her to be the one person whose advice you value most, so don’t squirm when she gives it.

He could have been a heroic man, sacrificing himself for the sake of love, justice, and mercy.  He knew very well that Jesus was innocent — he said so himself.

Instead he chose to be the coward of cowards.  What is the suffering of one innocent man compared to the danger I face?  And it was danger.  He was facing the end of everything, and so he pushed away the plain truth and talked himself into the crucifixion.

***

I do this all the time.  I push away what I know to be the right thing to do, because I do not want to lose some good I’ve convinced myself is more urgent.

***

The difference between God and us is that He’s God and we aren’t.  He’s all-powerful, our powers are limited.

We are capable of being fully human.  We are capable of being entirely the persons God created each of us to be.  We are capable of choosing heroic sacrifice rather than cowardice.  But we would still only be men.  Limited.

God-made-Man remained fully God even as He took on the fullness of humanity as well.   As man, he could be fully the best sort of man, giving of himself entirely.  But He was still God, and thus His powers were not limited.

***

Think of the best people you know.  Perhaps you have moments when you would gladly sacrifice yourself for someone else.  Perhaps you are a parent who would do anything to take on the suffering of your child so that your child can be spared.  Perhaps you see someone in grave danger, and know that if you could, you would give over even your very life to rescue that person.

Sometimes we get the chance to act on that impulse, but usually we don’t.  No matter how fully your heart is filled with generosity and a willingness to sacrifice, your powers are limited.  You would joyfully give your life to save that starving orphan in the war-torn country, but you can’t. You are limited by distance and other obstacles.   Maybe you can’t even give your life adopting some local orphan, because your means or the local bureaucracy or the other people who already require your help prevent you from being able to rescue that other one.

You and I can give everything we have, but we can’t give it to everyone.

***

We also can’t cause our sacrifices to do exactly what we want done.  My abilities are limited.  I can save some people in some situations, but other problems are beyond my powers.  I lack the mechanism to make the rescue happen.

***

Fully Man, Jesus was the best of men.  He was willing to sacrifice everything for the good of others.

Fully God, the power of His sacrifice is not limited.

He can save everyone, everywhere, everyhow.

He can breathe into dirt and cause humans to live on earth.  He can hang on a cross and cause humans to live in eternity.

He has the willingness and also the ability.

File:Caravaggio flagellation.jpg

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].

FYI we have a family custom of unplugging for the Triduum.  Some of us will still be on the machine doing things like taxes and homework, but if you’re looking for me, I finally have a legitimate excuse for being gone.  Happy Easter!

Lent Day 43: Not Doing It

Wednesdays are traditionally the glorious mysteries.  I finally got back to praying the Rosary today after a gaping hiatus caused by a succession illness (it is a physical act, and thus requires one or another physical abilities), chaos, and inertia.

What was on my mind as I prayed was my inability to accomplish certain tasks before me, and thus my reliance on God to take care of them.  This is a good problem, because relying on me is not the wisest course, and in any case the tasks are God’s.

Here is a miracle, to give you an idea of the scope of the whole thing: I made a craft.  Not just any craft; one that required both bright colors and straight lines.  Also, I had to do it with supplies that I didn’t have spares of, which meant everything had to be done exactly right the first time.  No sane person assigns me a job like this.  Just never.

So anyway, I get around to the fourth glorious mystery, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Do you know what our Lady did during that mystery?

Nothing.

Just laid there.  Didn’t lift a finger.

God did it.

This seems to be the way it works.  Want me to conceive the Messiah? I can’t do that Lord, but however you want to handle this go ahead.  Out of wine?  Son, could you take care of this please?  So you’re saying the plan is that you’re going to die on that cross–? I’m just gonna stand here, and you figure out what the system is.

It’s not that Mary does nothing.  It’s that she does only the part she can do, and lets God worry about the rest.

 

***

Request: If you have a charism for bringing empty jars to the attention of our Lord, please consider joining the newly-formed Catholic Evangelization and Discipleship Intercessory Prayer Team group on Facebook.  It’s a closed group, but any member can add new members.  If you are in the work of discipleship or evangelization and would like people to pray for your mission, please join and post your requests.  (Also: Introduce yourself and I’ll add you to the pinned post of who’s who at the top.) Thank you!

 

File:Albert Cornelis - Assumption of the Virgin - ES BRHM BPV 009 12.jpg

Artwork courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].

 

Lent Day 25: Suscipe

The Annunciation should be a bigger feast than it is.

The chocolate chip cookies at lunch were especially good, but I assure you I say this for theological reasons.  I mean seriously, kids: It’s the Annunciation!  It’s the re-beginning of EVERYTHING.  Sheesh.  Festivate!

Also: St. Ignatius is the man.

More also: We’ve got some mighty good priests in this country.

And that’s all for now, back to the feast.  Have a good one!

 

File:Caravaggio - The Annunciation.JPG

Of course I picked the Caravaggio.  I couldn’t be expected to do anything other, once I learned it existed.  View the image detail, the better to feast upon.  [Public Domain, via Wikimedia.]

Wikipedia, by the way, has a nice article on the word suscipe.

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 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.

Top Three Things to Do for Lent

When you want to get something done, quit monkeying around.  For your Lenten to-do list:

  1. Prayer.
  2. Penance.
  3. Alsmgiving.

Don’t make it complicated.  These are the things that work.

IMG_0965
Ashtag from a previous year. At this writing I’m still festivating, thanks.

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