Do You Lent?

  
It’s time for Lent which is that 40+ day period in which we prepare ourselves for Easter. These days many Christians other than Catholics observe Lenten practices, such as the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. The practice of “giving something up for Lent” is well-known. Many of us wait until the last minutes to choose our penitential practice, so it’s pretty common to hear that folks might give up chocolate or doughnuts for Lent. I’m not saying those are necessarily bad choices, just that I think we could be a bit more thoughtful in how we embrace Lent. We could pray and ask the Lord to lead us to do what we need to do to become closer to Him. Lent is a gift from God, a time to do some spiritual housecleaning and to make our hearts ready for His Passion and Resurrection.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been jotting down ideas for Lenten sacrifices as I’ve thought of them or come across them on social media. There’s nothing much new in this motley collection. And, as a friend says, we should be doing all these things anyway. We should be praying each day and being charitable to one another. We should answer hatred with love. Mercy should direct our steps and our words. And everything we do and say should give glory and honor to God. Lent reminds us every day that God wants to be near to us, and our response should be to want to give Him the best “us” that we can be. I hope these ideas can help you make your Lent more meaningful.  

Go ahead and give up chocolate or meat or fast food. You’ll gain control over your body and self-denial is the foundation of spiritual growth. In the same spirit, don’t eat the last bite of food on your plate. Leave out the salt and pepper. Give up those energy drinks you love. Don’t buy anything at Starbucks. If you drink coffee, leave out the sugar and cream. Don’t snack between meals. Don’t talk about your diet to get attention. Watch what you wear so that your clothes don’t draw attention to yourself. Skip the massages and mani-pedis. Don’t use technology during meals or anytime after dinner (phone, television, computer, gaming, etc.). Give up your Instagram filters. Stop trolling other folks online. Don’t Google yourself. Don’t post on social media or check your phone more than twice a day. Stop being a backseat driver. Don’t listen to music in the car. Start using your turn signal. Don’t tailgate. Don’t curse at other drivers. Stop angry driving. Stop complaining. Pray for humility. Pray to go through each day, unnoticed. Give something away each day during Lent (one of my personal favorites). Stop putting things off. Don’t gossip. Stop playing the victim card. Stop trying to be an expert—on anything. Be honest about your limitations. Don’t pray only when you need something. Don’t use “God” or “Jesus” as an exclamation. If you find yourself judging someone, stop, and say a prayer for them instead. End every day by asking God to show you how you sinned that day. Stop pretending that you don’t have the time to pray.

I hope these few ideas can help you to discover those parts of your life that you feel led to change during Lent. Developing good habits take daily practice and the weeks of Lent will help you to make those changes. Pray for guidance and enlightenment. Be open to being surprised at where God may lead you this Lent. Let the Holy Spirit change you. Let every day be a new way to love and serve the Lord.  

Lent is a time of grace, a time to convert and live out our Baptism fully.”

                —-Pope Francis 

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Invisible Tears

  
She’s in front of you in the checkout line at the grocery store. She’s the treasurer of your son’s PTA. She teaches piano to your daughter. She and her family sit behind you at Mass. She’s your boss, your best friend, your sister, your mother. She’s you. And she’s had an abortion.

I’m not going to talk about statistics. Abortion isn’t about statistics, it’s about babies. I’ll let the other side talk numbers if they want to. Let’s just say that everyone in America is related to a baby who has been aborted. A baby you never got to hold or feed or play with or watch grow up. That little sister you didn’t have. That older cousin who never drove you to the mall. The uncle who didn’t teach you how to cheat at cards. The tapestry of our life loses another thread. Bit by bit, baby by baby, it comes unravelled. All of us are made less. We all lose. Think of your family at Thanksgiving, gathered around the table to share a meal and give thanks. Now imagine the empty chair (or chairs) of the family that was never born. How much fuller our hearts and lives would be with them in it.  

Why a woman has an abortion is as personal as her own heartbeat. But surely only a very few made the choice without torment and despair. Did she see no way to support her baby? Did she have to hide her baby’s coming from her parents or boyfriend? Or did they pressure her into having an abortion? Was she too ashamed to find another way so her baby could live? Did her husband drive her to the clinic so she could abort their child? It’s never a simple medical procedure, no matter what she’s been told. She’ll never forget the smell of the disinfectant or that the nurses laughed at shared jokes. She’ll remember the sounds of the machines they used and how cold she was, trembling under the thin, blue sheet.  

How many times over the rest of her life is she haunted by that day? Is there a single week that she doesn’t remember it and think of the life that once lived inside her? I don’t believe that most women “celebrate” their abortions, like some on the other side try to do. I believe they remember their babies. I believe they love the baby that wasn’t born. I believe that love is how they hold themselves together on those nights they can’t sleep and they try to imagine what their child would look like and what their baby would sound like when it laughed. I believe the wound of their abortion never fully heals.  

But we can help. We can try and understand that there are situations leading up to every abortion that we don’t know about. We can’t know their struggle. So we’re called to be merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful (Luke 6:36). Being pro-life also means being pro-mercy. Listen to her story and show her the same acceptance and encouragement that you’d want to be shown. Honor her suffering. Offer her a chance to feel loved and not judged. Pray with her. Help her to find the help that she needs. Rachel’s Vineyard is a post-abortion healing outreach that offers women a path to recovery (1-877-HOPE-4-ME). These women are our daughters, our sisters, our cousins, our co-workers and our friends. They’re not statistics. Their tears are our tears. 

“Thus says the Lord: In Ramah is heard the sound of moaning, of bitter weeping! Rachel mourns her children, she refuses to be consoled because her children are no more. Thus says the Lord: Cease your cries of mourning, wipe the tears from your eyes. The sorrow you have shown shall have its reward, says the Lord. There is hope for your future!” 

         —Jeremiah 31:15-17 

Sweet Silence

  
You might think I’m a little crazy for saying this, but here goes: I can’t wait for Lent to get here. It’s late in coming this year because Easter is late as well. We already have daffodils blooming this week, but we won’t begin Lent until March 1, which is Ash Wednesday. There’s something appropriate about Lent in late winter, when it’s still cold and icy and nothing seems to point to spring. Lots of folks experience Lent as a time of deprival and withdrawal, which goes along with those dreary winter days. But this year things will be different, at least here in the South. It looks like we’ll be making our Lenten journey wearing flip-flops.

And maybe that’s what we need this year. Maybe we need a Lent that seems a little less of a forced march and a little more like a walk in the garden. I think we deserve it after the last few months we’ve had, don’t you? This year, I’m seeking silence. I want and need time to shut out all the noise of the world and rest. I need interior silence; silence of the heart. I’ll be making some changes to insure that I get that silence, too. More unscheduled time, less online time. More prayer time, less social time. More alone time, less “busy-ness.”

There’s a wonderful quote by St. Augustine (354-430 AD) that helps me keep my focus each Lent: “God means to fill each of you with what is good, so cast out what is bad! If He wishes to fill you with honey and you are full of sour wine, where is the honey to go? The vessel must be emptied of its contents and then cleansed.” Each Lent we’re tasked with examining our hearts, and our lives in order to seek out that “sour wine” which is keeping us from receiving the fullness of God’s grace. That’s why some people give up their attachments to favorite foods or drinks or other distractions from God. They hope to use these little sacrifices as a way of decluttering their lives.  

For me, the surest way I know to hear the voice of the Lord is to spend time in silence. These days, that’s so very difficult. It’s easy enough to turn off the television but harder to disconnect from the phone and the computer. Even more difficult is finding the quiet inside our hearts, which can be pulled in so many ways by the demands of family, work and our other commitments. Cardinal Robert Sarah calls these “the dictatorship of noise.” Our modern lives are often ruled by the chatter of media and we rarely allow ourselves to be immersed in solitude and quiet. Unless we enter into that interior silence the whisper of God’s voice is too-often lost in all that background noise. That’s the gift of Lent—a season given to us each year which invites us to slow down, take time, turn off, and listen.

Lent is coming and I pray that my journey to Easter will be like those warm, quiet afternoon walks that Adam and Eve shared with our Lord in the Garden. I need to spend time in silence with God, to pare down everything in my life that distracts me from Him. My vessel has become full of sour wine and I long for the honey of His consolation and friendship. I pray that everyone reading this will embrace the gift of this Lenten season and make the time to walk in silence with the Lord. Springtime is here and your flip-flops are waiting. Don’t miss it!

“The greatest difficulty of modern man is to search for God in silence.”

     —-Cardinal Robert Sarah 

Negative Spirits

  
They’d saved for years to build their dream house and were finally moving in on a warm fall day. She was in love with their custom kitchen and he was looking forward to enjoying football season in his big “man cave” downstairs. As they settled down to spend their first night, though, something was wrong. That big screen television downstairs was on, blaring so loudly they could hear it two floors away. Shaking his head, he made his way to the basement to turn it off. Had he left it on, he though to himself. He couldn’t remember. But when he got downstairs, he discovered a much larger problem than he was expecting. Sure enough, the television was on with the volume set on high. The bigger problem? The TV wasn’t plugged in.

He saw the plug and the cord curled there on the shelf. He inspected it and looked at the back of the TV. He used the remote to turn down the volume and then, turned the set off. The sound stopped and the screen went black. He went back to bed without saying anything to his wife. He wasn’t sure what he’d have told her anyway. But it didn’t matter because just as he got into bed, they both heard the TV come on again downstairs. There’s a lot more to this story, but I won’t share it here. Let’s just say that the problem they had in their new house were eventually resolved with the help of a Catholic priest and continued prayers.  

Stories about strange or “other-worldly” experiences fascinate us. One look at what’s popular on television reveals how much many of us like watching zombies, vampires, witches, time travel, and magic. Ghosts are a discussion we might have have another day. What the couple above experienced in their new home wasn’t a ghost but a poltergeist. This is a manifestation of a spirit that, while perhaps not truly evil, serves to annoy people and cause disturbances that can be seen or heard by us, like a TV set that works without being plugged in. There’s no definitive Catholic teaching on much of what might be considered by popular culture to be paranormal. But, let’s face it, the Church is in the business of the supernatural. Until just a few years ago, we called one of the persons of the Blessed Trinity, the Holy “Ghost.” Church history is full of extraordinary miracles and Saints with amazing, out-of-this-world gifts and abilities.  

We have to remember that every spirit is subject to the power of God, Who created and sustains them. He gives us all that we need to confront and overcome any bothersome spirit, beginning with the Sacraments of His Church. Baptism, Confirmation and frequent Confession are the armor He provides us. The Holy Eucharist is Christ Himself, truly present. The prayers of the Church and the assistance of the angels and Saints also help us to dispel any bad spirits around us. Blessed crucifixes and holy water are powerful sacramentals against evil. And anyone who has seen a scary movie knows that when you really need the big guns, you call in a Catholic priest. They’re armed with prayers that work against all kinds of nasty spirits. And I can never understand why folks wait so long to contact a priest in these situations. A favorite Catholic prayer for protection from all manner of evil is this one:

St. Michael the Archangel, 

defend us in battle.

Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil.

May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,

and do thou,

O Prince of the heavenly hosts,

by the power of God,

thrust into hell Satan

and all the evil spirits,

who prowl about the world,

seeking the ruin of souls.

          —-Amen.

Remember that God’s love and protection will surround and uphold us whenever we ask for His assistance.