Lent 2011 #1

In the 8th grade, I gave up sodas for Lent. It was a relatively easy task and, as far as I recall, I did it well, except for one Sprite early in Lent that I bought at a gas station with my sister.

Ever since then though, Lent hasn’t been as easy. What do to do? What to give up? I don’t really commit to any particular task and thus never execute it well. So, here we go.

Lent 2011:

  • Cut out snacks.
  • Only drink water when dining out (e.g. don’t pay for anything than what comes as part of the meal).
  • Pray some part of the Liturgy of the Hours as a family

Now that a week of Lent is past us, how’s it going so far?

I’ve done fairly well on cutting out snacks. No major deviations. We haven’t had anything but water, except at the St. Ignatius fish fry since coffee/tea is part of the package. Most nights, we’ve prayed Night Prayer together except the couple of times we didn’t go to sleep at the same time.

In His Father’s Secret Service [Teaser]

The Paulist Fathers, the order I used to work with in my days at the UCC, is rolling out a Lenten YouTube reflection series… looks like it could be fun.

UPDATED: Apparently, they took the trailer offline once the series started. I really liked that trailer.

The Final Week

Now that we’ve celebrated the Sixth Sunday of Lent, which is actually Palm Sunday, so now past almost all of Lenten journey toward Easter. I pray that it was a beneficial one for you. Mine… well… let’s say that it started with me enjoying a homemade pizza on the First Friday of Lent, complete with turkey pepperoni. It wasn’t until that night that I realized my error.

Sometimes, Lent is “productive” from this first day. We pray more, we give more, we examine ourselves more. We choose wisely what to give up and what extra to do. Not only do we have the best of intentions, but we practice it to the closest thing to perfection on this side of heaven.

But of course, sometimes, Lent is a struggle. We want to pray more, but it never quite happens. Most of Lent passes us by before we remember we’re supposed to be using this holy season to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter. Our practice leaves much to be desired.

For me, this Lent was more of the latter. I spoke with Vanessa at great length about various practices and why I felt those things would help me prepare for Easter, but never settled on any of them, much less practice them well. Prayer did come, but I’d like to do it more.

Now, the season is nearly over.

The silver lining on this Lent-that-should-have-been-more is that it still brings the awareness that I’m far from where I should be. The need for Christ is all the more present. If I was already perfect, why would I need salvation? No, I need salvation. I need the healing of Christ. I need the love of God to touch me. I need.

By the accounts of this world, if I were to receive a report card on Easter Sunday, I would rather not look at my Lenten grade. The beauty of this grade report is that it is not permanent. I have the full glory of God before me and am able to ask for something quite amazing. Being able to ask and receive the forgiveness of God, being able to ask and receive the grace of God, being able to ask and receive faith. As we enter into these last days, my lack of fully entering into the season has reminded me of my need for the reason of the season–Jesus Christ.

Perhaps this Lent has been much more successful that what appeared at first glance.

broken lent

Today is Monday of the Second Week of Lent. Today is the 13th day of Lent 2006. For 13 days, we have fasted, sacrificed, prayed more, and done more good works than we had 14 days ago.
We come up with these great ideas on what we’re able to do. I’m going to give up sodas, pray the Liturgy of the Hours (at least aspects of it), stop the little cursing I still do, go to Mass when I can around my work/class schedule, volunteer at a food pantry, stop skipping class and help more old ladies across the street. I’m going to start all of this at midnight on March 1, 2006.
I’m going cold turkey on everything. When ashes were imposed on my foreheard with the priest or minister saying “Remember man, you are dust and to dust you shall return” or “Repent, turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”, I was suddenly empowered to do all these things I had planned on doing. On Ash Wednesday, seeing all of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ- many times, I’ll see more people in church than I would see on either Christmas or Easter- I am given this superhuman, divine, all-powerful spirit of renewal and vigor.
Have you caught the error in my thought yet?
We, and myself in particular, saw this Holy Season of Lent as a chance to make right all the things I wish I didn’t do. I hate that I skip class. I hate that I drink so many sodas. I wish to gain into a deeper relationship with my Creator and look to the Liturgy as a way for me to do so. I wish to pray more for my friends and family. I want to reverse my material living and give more for God. I want to do all these things.
Just because the day changes or a prayer is said, that doesn’t change anything in our lives unless we’re ready for that change and allow it into our lives.
In order to live the lives we wish to live, we can’t wake up one morning and change everything that we wished to change. We are too much creatures of habit to allow for such a transition under normal circumstances. We have to start slow and prepare ourselves for this change. This is what Lent is- a time of preparation for the great Easter. Easter, the festum festorum, is Christ breaking the bonds of death and sin once and for all. This is a massive change! For all of human history, we have been bound by sin and death. Even for us individually, we are still born into this cycle. Easter changes all of that. Whether it was the first Easter thousands of years ago or our personal Easter, that is our baptism, this feast transforms our sin and death into rising to new and everlasting life.
This change cannot happen overnight. Just as we cannot break old habits with the change to a new day and ashes, we cannot accept this new life without preparation.
For me, I broke Lent from day one. I did not make it through Ash Wednesday without breaking at least one of my “Lenten promises”. By now, I have already broken every single thing I hoped to sacrifice over these 40 days.
I wasn’t prepared.
Lucky for me, I realized this by drinking a Dr. Pepper instead of going to class. This Lent won’t be the perfect one we all imagine. I won’t make this great list of things to do and do them all throughout the entire season. This Lent will be a messy one. Through self-doubt, depression and death, I will prepare myself for a greater experience of God.
Maybe next year, I’ll be prepared to make a promise and keep it. Maybe, I’ll be prepared to sacrifice and have a true intent behind that sacrifice.

are you comfortable with change?

Two years ago today, liturgically speaking that is, I attended Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral in downtown Austin. During the homily, given by Bishop Aymond, there was a line that struck me.

Change is always seen as a negative thing in our lives because it interferes with our level of comfortability. Might I suggest that we start to become comfortable with change.

At the time, I took that message to mean that I should stop being afraid of possible changes and step forward on something I had been thinking greatly about. In this case, applying for seminary studies. As faithful readers of the site know, I never left Austin to go to the seminary. The application was complete, but I “broke up” with the Bishop before being accepted.

There is an important lesson to be learned with that. For me, the process of applying to seminary was something I needed to do. It brought me focus, gave me peace, helped me to learn about myself. Notice, I never actually went to seminary. Starting a process and reaching the end goal are not always one and the same.

Lent is a season of change. In the season of Lent, we are called to change ourselves. We are called to look deep inside our beings and figure out “What in me is opposed to God and what can I do to change that?”

Lent is the starting of a process. Just as Jesus had to prepare himself in prayer before taking action in the world, so we must do as well. We do two things during Lent. First, we start the walk with Christ toward the Cross. We prepare ourselves to attempt to understand this amazing salvation history we inherited. Secondly, we ask that we are given the strength to accept our salvation and spread word of this salvation to others.

Walking with Christ to the Cross
On the Cross, Christ gave himself for the salvation of all. His death purchased for us the rewards of eternal life. This was not something that just happened on Friday afternoon without preparation or forethought. From the beginning of time, Christ was destined to save us. When he was born in the flesh at Christmas, he came to us to save us. He was also a prophet so he came to teach us more about God before building the everlasting bridge between us and the Father.

While humanity would have benefited greatly from Christ serving as just a prophet, his greatest duty was not to be a prophet. It was to be the Lamb. We must empty ourselves as He did in order to allow the will of God to manifest itself.

Starting a Process
I thought I started the process of applying to the seminary a couple years ago and I thought it was something that I quit. Perhaps, the process was to learn more about myself and it was someting that I completed, at least within the scope of what I was seeking. Likewise with Lent, we start various processes. We give up sweets, sodas, cussing or whatever else. We start praying more, going to daily Mass, doing more community service. All these things are good and great, but they aren’t what we’re really trying to do.

Giving up junk food and doing more to help your fellow man are laudable things, but in and of themselves, they are just those actions. The underlying process in play during Lent is the process of conversion. We use these sacrifices of time and desire to increase our ability to interface with our God. If you give up something just to give it up, or go get ashes on Ash Wednesday just to get ashes or whatnot, you’re missing the point completely.
On the same thread, if you think that if you slip and fall once or twice during Lent, it makes you a horrible Catholic, you are also missing the point completely. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to perfection in our sacrifices, but simply that the sacrifices aren’t the end goal or focal point.

It all depends on what we take from it. For some people, failure is the greatest teacher. For some, when they slip up and completely bomb on what they’re trying to do, they gain the most from it and become a better person for it. If you’re one of those people and you slip up during Lent, but you gain so much from the experience, there are worse things in life.

Now, if you slip up and just constantly make excuses for it, stop now. Own up to your misgivings and faults. Admit that somethings are just damn difficult. Don’t rely on your excuses but rely on the mercy of God.
During Lent, our process is not to sacrifice our way to Heaven. Our process is to find, refind, redefine, strengthen or develop our relationship with God by using the tools at our disposal. We can do this any time of the year, but in the cycle of our Christian life, this is the perfect time to start again.

During this season and using our sacrifices as tools toward the greater goal, may we find peace and comfort, joy and strength from loving and eternal God.