There are a few spares in the “forty” days of Lent, which makes up for some of the ones you might have skipped. Most years Lent doesn’t begin on the first of the month, so it’s not as obvious.
I was aware already of the way that attempting a Lenten penance can show you your weakness when you keep slipping up. You try to carry out some small laudable act of prayer, fasting, or almsgiving, and even that is too much. You are smaller than you thought.
More stark: When you stick to the penance but flail miserably at ordinary life. Not because the penance sunk you — quite the contrary. Rather, because you just aren’t ever all that good at carrying out ordinary life.
Outside of Lent, little lapses hide more easily. Big lapses are robbed of their sting, clothed in busyness and festivities. When all your actions are played against the bare purple curtain, the holiness-failures are radically more obvious.
Things I’ve learned:
- If I have to push, push, push through a bunch of logistical challenges — not problems, mind you, just the challenging side of carrying out some good and desired goal — it wears me down. I run out of willpower.
- What I think of as my “ordinary prayer life” requires my ordinary life. It requires pockets of silence and privacy and extra energy that I normally schedule into a typical day. Even if the way I “schedule” is to shove a rosary in my pocket and pray it during the silent half of never-the-same kid-errands, the space is there. When the space isn’t there, I’m sunk.
- Being more tired than usual means I can’t do as much as I could when I’m less-tired. You’d think by now I’d know this, but I’m a slow learner.
And the killer: My sins run in packs. Circumstance A leads to Pressure B which leads to Reaction C which transmorgifies into Capital Sin C which, don’t let the name fool you, engenders I-can’t-believe-I-did-that-and-I-don’t-want-to-quit-either sins D, E, and F.
One of the St. Joseph’s Baltimore Catechisms for children reminds us that “venial sin is worse than the measles.” Oh yeah. This is worse than the measles for sure, and the measles are bad.
It’s like I can’t save myself.
Icon of the Crucifixion courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain].