40 Days

I have barely put away the Christmas wrapping paper. I mean that. Just the other day I put the last roll of wrapping paper bearing the images of reindeer and Santa into my bedroom closet (which is the Place Where Everything That Doesn’t Belong in the Garage Goes to Live).

And here it is – Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. The first of 40 days and 40 nights (or so) of sacrifice and prayer in preparation for Christ’s death and resurrection. Put away my Christmas stuff, give a brief shout-out to Valentine’s Day, and start crocheting bunnies, all within about a two week period.

Every year (as you know if you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning) I give great thought to how I’m going to live my Lent. From the time I was a little girl of 7 (the so-called Age of Reason in the Catholic Church), I have “given up” something to show God how deeply appreciative I am of Christ’s sacrifice. Because not eating chocolate and dying a painful death on the cross are so much alike.

As a little girl, I always gave up desserts. That actually wasn’t that much of a sacrifice since Mom rarely made us dessert and we always gave ourselves Sundays off. As Charlie Sheen would say, “Wow. Winning.” But that wasn’t as bad as the year that Court, probably about 10 at the time, announced he was giving up chicken for Lent. He didn’t like chicken then and isn’t a big fan now. I put the nix on that idea very quickly. That was probably the beginning of Court’s spiritual plunge.

I love the gospel of St. Matthew read at Ash Wednesday Mass.

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door. And pray to your Father in secret. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance so that they may appear to others to be fasting. When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you may not appear to be fasting.

imagesIt gives me pause, and the reason is that I always wonder if I’m being a hypocrite when I start talking about what Big Thing I’m going to do for Lent. Perhaps I should just keep it to myself.

But I write a blog, and I’m certain you are all interested.

I recently read something on Facebook which said something like could you live in a cabin in the woods for 30 days with no access to your phone, your computer, your television, your iPad, or any other type of technology.

Pfff, I thought. Of course I could. As long as I can read a book, er, on my iPad. And as long as I can check Facebook every day (well, a few times a day). And as long as I don’t have to miss Downton Abbey or American Idol.

Ok, so maybe I couldn’t do it for 30 days, but maybe I could do it for one day. One day a week. One day a week for five weeks.

So, that’s my challenge. I am giving up all technology one day a week for Lent. I will post my blog on the Day of No Technology, but will then shut off my computer until the next morning. And my phone. And my iPad (except to read since all my books are ebooks).

And no sweets, every day, even on Sundays. For old times’ sake.

Yikes.

Zealot

coinsI want to remind my faithful readers that we currently live in Arizona, which doesn’t observe daylight savings time. Therefore, for many of you, it will appear my blog is posted much later. I’m, in fact, posting about the same time, but some of you will see it much later.

There are many stories in the gospels that demonstrate Jesus’ patience and love for his friends. He told parable after parable to try and get his point across to his hard-headed and often clueless disciples, who never seemed to quite get it.

But I have two particular favorite stories in the gospels and they have something in common. First, John’s gospel talks about the death of Jesus’ very good friend Lazarus. Upon learning of his death, John tells us “Jesus wept.”

Second, all four gospel writers tell their version of Jesus, seemingly very angry, turning over the tables in the temple and telling the money changers to stop making his Father’s house a marketplace. In all four gospels, Jesus was passionate.

The thing that both of these stories have in common is that they demonstrate Jesus’ humanness. He had emotions, like all human beings. He was sad that his friend died and he was clearly unhappy with the money-hungry merchants.

I think the notion of Jesus being angry makes some people uncomfortable. Jesus is God, and God doesn’t get angry. (Well, Lot’s wife might take issue with this notion. Still, she was duly warned.) For my part, I like the idea that Jesus gave the merchants the what-for as he observed their greedy actions. I like that he had strong feelings about what was right and what was wrong.

In John’s gospel about Jesus in the temple, his disciples recalled the words from scripture they had learned at their mama’s knee: Zeal for your house will consume me.

Over coffee yesterday afternoon, Bec and I discussed Jesus in the temple. Her pastor focused on Jesus’ zeal rather than on the notion that Jesus was angry. And when you look up the definition of zeal, it sheds a bit of a different light on Jesus’ actions.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary:

Zeal: noun  A strong feeling of interest and enthusiasm that makes someone very eager or determined to do something.

Synonyms: passion, ardor, love, fervor, fire, avidity, devotion, enthusiasm, eagerness, keenness, appetite, relish, gusto, vigor, energy, intensity

It puts a bit of a different spin on it, doesn’t it? Still, I love that the gospels document that Jesus had strong feelings and emotions just as I do.

Other Cheek

Jesus on cross

This is crucifix that hangs in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, a beautiful basilica in Rome. The crucifix is very moving as the depiction of the crucifixion is likely much more realistic than what we usually see. It literally made me cry when I first saw it. This is what He had to endure so that my sins are forgiven.

Here we are, four days into Lent, and I’m lucky that I haven’t thrown my bum shoulder out of joint for all of the patting myself on the back that I’ve been doing. I have lived a simpler life, at least for the past four days. Aren’t I something? I am fulfilling my Lenten promise. I rock.

But at Mass yesterday, in his homily our deacon abruptly caught my hand at the wrist (figuratively speaking) and stopped all of my back patting by telling me that it isn’t important that I “give up” something for Lent; what I really need to do is “give in.”

We are all flawed human beings. Every single one of us. I am. Bill is. My brother and sisters are. My children and grandchildren are. My nieces and nephews are. We are flawed because we are human. That’s why God sent his Son to die an excruciating death. So that our sins are forgiven. Our sins that result from the fact that we are human. And so we are flawed. See how that works?

We need, said Deacon Gordon, to “give in” to God. Live our lives as He wants us to live. Love each other. All the time. Not just when people are behaving the way you want them to behave. All. The. Time.

Isn’t it remarkable that God loves me even when I don’t live my life the way he wants me to? Even when I use His name in anger. Even when I ignore people in need. Even when I don’t love my neighbor as myself, one of only two things Jesus — during his short life — really told us we need to do. Love God and love your neighbor.

And here’s me, dutifully going to Mass each Sunday, giving money to my church, giving up something hard for Lent, calling myself a devout Catholic, and forgetting to do something as simple as forgiving my neighbor.

Shame on me. Shame on any of us who let human things divide us from those we love. There is nothing more important than our family and friends, except for our love of God. And if you properly love God, you will love your friends and family, despite their faults.

What I came to realize as I thought about Deacon Gordon’s words was that forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily mean I think what they did was okay. But being angry really only hurts me. The other person gets a pass and I am imprisoned by my own fury. Forgiveness sets me free.

So I’m not giving up my Lenten resolution to live a simpler life. But I am going to be aware of the things that will bring me true joy. Not happiness, which is fleeting, but joy, which is deeper and longer-lasting.

As a final reminder (as if our deacon’s homily hadn’t hit home hard enough), towards the end of Mass, someone collapsed and had to be taken away in an ambulance. It was a startling reminder to me that life is short and unpredictable.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

 

Ashes to Ashes

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return. – Genesis 3:19

imagesIt’s always sort of amused me that the Catholic Masses on Ash Wednesday have more participants than on most Sundays and all Holy Days. I’m not sure exactly what it is that draws Catholics to Mass on Ash Wednesday. I know I always go, though I’m under no obligation to do so. It simply feels like an appropriate beginning to Lent. But I also go on Sundays. So there.

My theory is that whether or not one is a practicing Catholic, we like the sign of the cross on our forehead in ashes to proclaim to the world, well, I don’t know, something. Probably not what we are supposed to be proclaiming to the world.

Bill and I differ on what we do after Mass. Do we wash off the ashes or leave them on? He is a washer-offer, and does so even before leaving the church. His theory (and it’s a good one) is that Christ told his followers not to be hypocrites.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:5-6

Nevertheless, having attended Catholic school for 13 years during which time the nuns told us we should wear our ashes proudly for as long as they stay on our foreheads, I am inclined to do so, hoping all the while that I’m not a hypocrite.

Since childhood, I have undertaken some sort of penance during Lent. This penance is generally in the form of “giving up” something, and offering the sacrifice to God, who “gave up” his only Son.  I haven’t always “given up” the same thing, but I’ll bet if I was able to look back, the thing I gave up more often than anything else is sweets.

That’s always been surprisingly difficult for me. I say surprising, since I don’t think of myself as a big sweet eater. But I must be, because I have always looked forward to Easter Sunday when I could finally have a great big piece of something sweet.

So, as I pondered what to do for Lent this year, I considered giving up sweets once again. But that seemed insufficient somehow, at least for where I am in my spiritual life.

After careful consideration, here is what I have decided to do for Lent.

Live a simpler life. Pray more.

I know what I mean by that, but if I tell you, then I’m being like the hypocrites.