Creative Lenten Penances

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On Mardi Gras, as I sipped an Abida Amber, I was inspired to text a bunch of people I know all over the country and ask them: “Would you share with me a creative Lenten penance you’ve done in the past, or are doing this year, so I can share it anonymously (or not) on my blog?” People married, single, divorced, teenagers, middle-aged, a 78 year old and 2 priests replied.

Wow. I was amazed at the response. 23 texts/emails. So humbling and beautiful and inspiring. I will just paste them all here for you to read. Thanks to all who took the time in making themselves vulnerable enough to share them with me. Most of them came as texts, and I will just leave them just as they are. May they inspire your own Lenten practices!

I won’t post again until I have a fresh inspiration, and to give your Inbox a rest!

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Sorry for the delay. Thanks so much for the consideration Tom. Majorly humbling. My first response would be that everyone should just listen to Mashley. But I digress…

If not possible, there are two things I would like to share. Both have not been pulled off to perfection internally or in lived reality. They’re great challenges that I try to navigate.

First, I try to take the beatitudes and break them into weekly reflections for Lent. Though the number of beatitudes and weeks of Lent don’t perfectly match, I try to make them work close enough. Each week, I try to focus on a beatitude. Keeping one beatitude in front my eyes. How is this one manifested in the world. How’s it manifested in my life. How is it manifested in my words and actions. In my encountering Christ work, I stumbled upon a guy that is a theology teacher in town. He really schooled me in the beauty of the beatitudes. Ever since, I’ve tried to find a practical way to tear them open and allow them to infect me. Lent seemed ideal.

The last way is a use of media. Media sometimes takes over me during the year. A natural progression, or digression. I made an intentional decisions to not remove myself from media, instead I tried to use Lent to allow God-filled content to permeate my day-to-day media consumption in the true hope that it converts my overall (year long) intake of music, movies and/or online reading consumption. I usually take a social media fast, but didn’t find that I replaced it with proper channels. This was just an attempt to convert the parts of my habits that were fairly engrained and daily routines. Thanks for asking. Ask any questions you may have, hope that helps in anyway.
Oh. For [my wife’s] sake and with the kids. Creative ideas a plenty for Lent. We did the crown of thorns with the toothpick idea. The kids got to take a toothpick out every time they did a good deed. They loved it.

Resource here: http://www.catholicicing.com/lenten-activities-for-children/

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I’m not sure if this is what you are looking for, BUT… One of the things I am working on is following through with what I commit to and making my “yes mean yes and no mean no”. So before I impulsively commit to anything I’m practicing my immediate response to be “let me get back to you after I check my schedule/prays about it/etc …that way I am also allowing room for Jesus to fill my day before I do. As far as prayer goes, I am doing the Marian consecration and ending on the Annunciation which is a little shy of Easter
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Thanks, Tom. I’m a little under the weather. Besides, I don’t really have many words of value. I’m simply going to rend my heart and love like Christ until il it bleeds. I hope 😉 OR I could give up coffee. But I have to function. I’ll probably be better off with a bloody heart than be without Caffeine!!!

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In the past I have invited people to pick a vice and cultivate the opposing virtue for the entirety of Lent. For example:

Vice: Lust
Virtue: Temperance

Prayer: The Rosary. If we meditate on the Life of Christ in our thoughts and imagination then our words and actions will most likely be Christ Centered.

Abstain: No music in the Car during Lent. This can be used as time to talk with God about our time of meditation.

Fast: Fast from tasty food and drink during Lent. If we can deny ourselves the pleasure we get from tasty food then we can more easily deny ourselves the pleasure we get from Lust.

Almsgiving: Give time to Someone or People we get know pleasure from being around. If I don’t like old people then I will schedule a weekly visit with old people at the nursing home or I will call an elderly relative for a half hour conversation. If I don’t get pleasure from being around poor people then I will spend a day at the soup kitchen every week.

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I don’t know if my penances are very creative! No Netflix on Tuesdays and Thursdays so as to better enjoy my books and my house and 10 minutes of lectio divina every night; I find that much more helpful than spiritual reading alone. If either would be helpful, you can post them!

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Mmmmm. Nothing creative coming out of here for quite some time.

Junior high RE director suggested to class that they keep journal and right the names of people who annoy/hurt/offend them. Rather than gossip or complain, penitent must keep silent and pray – for the “offender’s” intentions, not for them to evaporate/apologize/even change their mind.

Journal must be shared with no one but Christ.

Reverse of private: Bo Bonner had Orthodox friend on his “Uncommon Good” radio show. Conversation about the Orthodox being more about communal penance/offerings. Suggested having another person choose YOUR penance for you, in order to help you practice conforming your will to another’s.
*people in my house thought this was a great idea , until they realized they wouldn’t just choose another’s penance…another would choose the penance for them. Mmmm.

Help others succeed.
Practical application:
Perhaps helping remove obstacles and temptation for one another. Forbidden foods kept out of the house. Prayer books kept in a prominent place. No interruptions for a person trying to create prayer habit at specific time of day.
No invitation to gossip, break fast, skip difficult practices ( stations, late night adoration times, chores we hate).

Maybe there’s a shred there you can add to. That’s all I’ve got.

God bless you and yours.
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Tom,

I’m happy to share, but I have to say that there’s nothing too “creative” about my penitential practices. I’m a firm believer in the value of fasting–mostly of the traditional not-eating kind (a penance that I recommend to one and all, but perhaps especially to husbands/fathers), but also of variations on that theme (giving up desserts, not listening to music in the car, giving up recreational internet usage, etc.). The one other aspect that I’ve included in my Lenten discipline at times is to use Lent as a focused inauguration of some practice that I’d like to maintain
after Lent (for example, increasing/modifying prayer or devotional practices)–the zeal for Lenten practices can go a long way to laying the foundation of a new habit.

Sorry I don’t have anything more interesting to offer, but thanks for thinking of me.

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Not so unusual, but during Lent I typically try to spend more time with the elderly.
And other exercises of almsgiving with time rather than money.

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Sorry for the late reply. Was driving earlier. Two particularly memorable Lenten penances come to mind. One year, I gave up hot water. Having spent a couple weeks on a mission trip in Honduras we didn’t have hot water. I underestimated how much colder the water could be in [my home town] in late winter. I remember all my muscles tensing up and barely being able to stand the cold water long enough to rinse shampoo from my hair. I certainly learned how little water is really necessary (turning it off while lathering, etc) and how quickly and shower can be had!
The Lent preceding my proposal to [my wife], I gave up my bed. It was old anyway, so in order to keep me from backing out of the commitment, I took the drastic step of taking the mattress to the street for trash pick-up. Inspired to continue this sacrifice afterward for my bride to be, I didn’t own another bed until we were married. Thank you for keeping my identity anonymous in sharing.

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Realize that I need to be other focused and more generous…so I’ve picked 6 individuals to focus on. One person per week of lent. I will fervently pray for them and probably write them a note to let them know how much I appreciate their existence.
Also, I have been lackadaisical about tithing, and I have enough saved to do this: writing a check for 10% of my 2016 income and joyfully giving it to my parish.
Also…I always give up sugar but THIS year I’m not going to talk about it or complain about it and have a big smile when I say “no thanks” to dessert. Keeping it a little secret.

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Yes, [my daughter] and I are giving up eating out and not buying anything we don’t absolutely need. I am also starting a weekly bible study.

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I gave up watching the golden girls one Lent, huge sacrifice for me, it was my favorite part of the day

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Be happy to help — Not sure how creative but this Lent I am committing to a Wednesday intercessory prayer gathering during at the Cenacle. In the past one of more creative and powerful Lenten experiences— prayed daily (missed a day here and there) about a long held resentment that I had problems letting go of. And did with through the Grace of God. Hope this helps. Good luck with the blog.

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Not listening to anything in the car to create a space to pray, especially for the random drivers around me…
There also is the 40 bags for 40 days challenge (I have never actually signed up or read the “official” rules/thought behind it), it has been communicated to me that the idea is to declutter your home one bag at a time for 40 days to learn to live a more simple life, more detached.

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Taking the bus/public transportation instead of driving my car.

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I gave up makeup for Lent. I actually almost didn’t give up makeup because I realized that the tøp [Twenty One Pilots] concert was during Lent. But then I was praying before a big physics test and I promised that if I got an A I would give up makeup for Lent because it was my biggest sacrifice.

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Dear Tom,

Per your request yesterday, here is the Lenten practice that is the most important and central for me:
During Lent I really try to make an effort to actively cooperate with the movement of the Holy Spirit within me to not only think but especially act in ways that I would ordinarily not. Rather than remaining within my own human logic, I try to create a space for the theo-logic to surprise both myself and those with whom I come into contact: my family, friends, and strangers. In other words, I attempt to step beyond my own self-centered world, get out of my boat, and meet Christ upon the tumulus waters where he awaits me. This could be anything from giving of my time or possessions when it simply does not make sense to do so or saying that which would normally make me feel extremely uncomfortable but is spiritually edifying for others. It’s all about creating room for God’s activity in the my life and the world!

I hope this is what you were looking for!

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Hi!
Here we go
For this 2017 Lent, I plan on abstaining from the use of mirrors. Doing this service to the Lord will make me a more humble Child of God and teach me the importance of humility. I will not be able to apply makeup nor check my appearance every few minutes. There will be a cover over my mirrors and a sticker over my phone’s front camera. I hope that after this experience I will not be so dependent on my appearance in order to APPEAR kind; I hope that my actual KINDNESS will show through without the mirror-obsessed face.

Hope this is good enough 🙂
Let me know if you need something else, and I’ll be happy to do it

[At the bottom of this page are her mirrors. She gave me permission to share them]

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Hey Tom,

Here’s something I hope to do this Lent.

Grand Silence. At a certain hour of the evening—8pm or so—practice a “grand silence”. No music, no TV, no computers or mobile devices (obviously, be attentive to your family). Just time for prayer, reading, silence: listening to the Lord. And keep the silence until you wake the next morning.

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My wife and I give up making love every Lent so that we can focus more on other forms of affection and caring and appreciate more the gift of sexual union and not take it for granted. She especially likes that for 6 weeks she can know that if I want to kiss her or cuddle in bed it’s not a seguy to sex. Especially for me as a man it’s important that I can let her know in a very specific way that I love her and not sex and that I’m willing to forgo sex at any time if need be (like if she ever got sick) and love her just as much (or more) as when we can have sex. I decided to ask her to do this with me eight years ago when one day she asked me if I would be disappointed if for some reason we couldn’t be intimate any more. I said of course I would always love her no matter what and could never be disappointed in her if we didn’t have that in our marriage. But I could tell she was like you’re just saying that to be nice so I decided one Ash Wednesday after asking God during mass what sacrifice He wanted from me. It hit me like a baseball bat: show her it’s true that you love the way you say you do every Lent. She really loved the idea and cried when I said it because it made her feel cherished. Okay thanks Tom for letting me share that. And by the way [my wife] approves of my sharing this with the one qualification that it be anonymous lol. God bless.

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Every Lent I resolve to begin every day by doing first the day’s responsibility I like the least.

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He simply texted me this:

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I’m a chronic insomniac and I struggle with being irritable during the day, which makes me short tempered and quick to criticize. So this Lent I consecrated my insomnia to God and will work on intentionally making both my daily exhaustion and my tongue-restraining a sacrifice offered to Jesus on the cross, especially for all the people who irritate me most during the day or cause me to lay awake at night. Psalm 134:2 is my lenten verse: “bless the Lord through the night.”

 

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AN EMØTIØNAL RØADSHØW

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The sky on the drive into the city for the concert

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It finally happened. 3/2/17 my daughters, their friends and I went to the Twenty One Pilots (TØP) concert in New Orleans, the fourth to last gig in their Emotional Roadshow tour.

Someone the next day asked me to choose a single word to describe my experience. I immediately said: Transcendent.

The lead singer in one of the two opening acts, Jon Bellion, captured perfectly the marvelous distinctiveness of TØP:

You know, when you’ve got a band that makes it big as fast as they have; that can pack arenas all over the globe, like tonight; and you’ve got a band with only two men in it that can put on a show of the quality you’re about to experience tonight — and they still remain just as kind, humble and compassionate as they’ve always have been — well, you know you’ve got something amazing going on. Right? [cheers] And you fans tonight — right? — who you are, well, it’s a worthy reflection of who these guys are. So let’s get hyped, okay! Are you there?

I don’t know how to really convey my thoughts on this whole experience, so I’ll just let it flow without a plan. Yesterday, the morning after the concert, I was slammed, beginning at 5:00 a.m., with a series of intense work-related stresses, so I had to tuck away the fire that I had burning within me until my work day ended late last night. It’s still burning in me as I write.

Being at this concert with my daughters and their friends was a piece of heaven for me. That’s really the highlight of the night. These are all very special young women. One of my sons once said of all these girls, “Where do they come from? No one their age is like that.” They’re deep, beautiful throughout, hip, smart, fun, faith-filled, loving, not petty and real people. The fact that they were thrilled I was there with them, were totally jazzed that I knew the words to every TØP song, as I danced, jumped and arm-waved (all of which is, I believe, worth doing badly)? Well, it was nothing short of a suspension of the laws of teen nature. Here they are:

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It was transcendent. The concert, that is. Transcend, from the Latin trans (above or beyond) and scandere (to climb up), captures perfectly the effect of Josh and Tyler’s musical performance  — propelling, lifting, drawing, dazzling my spirit up into wild joy, forgetfulness of my cares, amazement and (a number of times) profound prayer. Their music in general, and this performance in particular, bears a profound sense of empathy, human solidarity and — there is no better single word for it — hope. Hope, because you feel in your guts you are not alone in the mess of things. Hope, because the unspecified “you” that marks so many of their songs is so naturally, though not assaultingly, open to God.

Someone asked me yesterday, “Are they a Christian band?” I immediately said, “No, they’re a schitzo-pop band who, as they write, sing and perform, inhale and exhale Christ, who is God so near that He’s nearly invisible.” They are artists who draw living water from the well of Christ who, in the words of Vatican II, “reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.” Yep, their music brings to light the high calling of men and women who find themselves presently very, very low to the ground. Often with the high skies blanked out of view. Especially as they sang Addict with a Pen, Trees, as well as a haunting — almost mystical — cover of My Chemical Romance’s song, Cancer. 

As I wrote last summer, while there are significant differences, concerts like theirs deeply resonate with the meaning and experience of liturgical worship. I think of the almost sacramental character of the lights, sights and sounds; the communal singing of common texts (lyrics) that unite all; the ritual body movements; the focus around a “sanctuary” populated by celebrants clothed in symbolic vestments; or the feeling of being removed from everyday experience to enter into a world of higher-deeper-wider meaning that transfigures the way you think-see-hear-feel everything. These events give baptismal priests like myself the opportunity to give voice to the liturgy of creation that shouts and whispers, sings and groans with all the vitality and agony of life in a world laboring to give birth to a new creation. In fact, a friend of mine texted me just before the concert began: “Prayers for your night of lay high priestly worship!!”

Jamie Smith, in his book Desiring the Kingdom, argues that humanity is naturally homo liturgicus, “liturgical man.” We are drawn to ritual and liturgy, are naturally oriented toward worship and desire for the taste of transcendence in liturgy. Psychologically, socially, spiritually. He makes the point that good education, which is meant not simply to train workers with skill-sets for lucrative careers or give head-knowledge, but to form the whole person, must be thoroughly liturgical. Hence, it must engage the whole person in every aspect of existence, while being at the same time a full immersion into the dynamic mystery of God. He says,

Education is not primarily a heady project concerned with providing information; rather, education is most fundamentally a matter of formation, a task of shaping and creating a certain kind of people. What makes them a distinctive kind of people is what they love or desire – what they envision as ‘the good life’ of the ideal picture of human flourishing. An education, then, is a constellation of practices, rituals, and routines that inculcates a particular vision of the good life by inscribing or infusing that vision into the heart — the gut — by means of material, embodied practices.

The Sacred Liturgy is not a concert, but concerts have the capacity to profoundly bear the imprint of Sacred liturgy. When done well, musical events lead us into the Sacred Liturgy and intensify the force of the dismissal Rite — Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life — empowering us to set the world on fire. Artists like TØP make present a FarNear Kingdom burgeoning with divine Fire, a Kingdom guilty of breaking-and-entering a world grown old and cold in sin. In the words of Ode to Sleep:

I’ll stay awake,
‘Cause the dark’s not taking prisoners tonight.

Why am I not scared in the morning?
I don’t hear those voices calling,
I must have kicked them out, I must have kicked them out,
I swear I heard demons yelling,
Those crazy words they were spelling,
They told me I was gone, they told me I was gone.

But I’ll tell them,
Why won’t you let me go?
Do I threaten all your plans?
I’m insignificant.
Please tell them you have no plans for me.
I will set my soul on fire, what have I become?
I’ll tell them.

Thank you, Lord of Fire, for TØP, who share with us words of hope and fire that consume the flaming arrows of dark demons who whisper despair into the night.

Here are a few videos I shot, portions of songs captured with my 432-times-dropped phone. So realize the quality is low and a dim reflection of the reality.

Very end of Car Radio:

Mashup of Screen and The Judge:

Ode to Sleep:

Migraine:

Cancer:

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Catherine and Maria, lights in my life

Daylight’s End

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Saw this while I was in Des Moines. Founded by Evangelical Protestants.

Re-post from last March.

A bit of an eclectic post today.

My son has a friend in Iowa who plays the video game, League of Legends. From what I understand it is a “battle arena” game populated by mythological warriors. In any event, this friend shared with my son one of the new songs recently released in the game that accompanies the “loading” of a mythic character named Diana, Scorn of the Moon. The song is based on a poetic text called Daylight’s End, sung by classically trained Lisa Thorn. It is an ode to the pagan cult of the Moon, whose mythological tale makes Diana the herald and defender of the Moon cult against the majority cult of the Sun.

It’s a haunting piece, and points to the power of mythology in the human imagination. Its power packs movie theatres and empties bookshelves. I listen to this League of Legends song, and other such works of imagination in pop culture products like video games, movies, TV series and music, and wonder: where are the Catholic artists, writers, directors, developers to infuse this all-pervasive pop culture with a Christ-haunted imagination? 

They are out there, emerging, in movements like dappledthings.org. Deo gratias. But largely what I hear from Catholic circles still is the post-Game Awards, post-Grammys, post-Oscars tired lament over the poverty and immorality of pop culture kitsch. Enough lamentation from the sanctuary. Let’s start a kulturkampf in the public square! Pope Francis, give me a word:

More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us, ‘Give them something to eat.’

All the while, God daily calls, gifts and sends young Christian artists and authors out into the world — but who in the church helps them hear and respond? These aesthetic missionaries bear a vocation, in every age, to draw afresh from the limitless wellspring of the human imagination of God, Jesus Christ, and infuse its splendor into culture — pop or elite. Christians have it all: good and evil, sin and redemption, love and hate, towering heroism and catastrophic failure, war and peace, justice and mercy, angels and demons, sinners and saints, all set within a celestial and cosmic drama played out on the borderlands of the infinite as the unchanging God of crazed love becomes what He was not. 

Start changing the culture … with re-enchantment: Preach the word of God in the trees and rivers. The graves giving up their dead. The angels swirling around the Throne. Existence itself figuring the Trinity, in how we live and move and have our being. Christ crucified and Christ resurrected. All the rest can follow, if God wants. — Joseph Bottom

In response to Martin Luther’s complaint, “the devil has all the good tunes,” J. R. R. Tolkien retorted, “the devil does not have all the good stories.” Preachers and teachers should be crying out full-throated from pulpit and podium, in churches and schools, to all young men and women who sense within an artistic vocation: strive for excellence and allow yourself to be swept up into the deep mystery of Christ, splashing His beauty all over the canvas of our culture!

Daylight’s End has a strange beauty to it. In my Christian imagination it seems these words could be placed into the mouth of Lucifer in the midst of the Passion, gloating as the light of the Son is extinguished and nightfall begins its ostensible triumph (cf Matt. 27:45). Yet, as the Dragon cants its mock-lament, hidden deep in the night is Christ arising, forever singing into existence a new creation.

I include Daylight’s End, and its poetic text, below.

Ask not the sun why she sets
Why she shrouds her light away
Or why she hides her glowing gaze
When night turns crimson gold to grey

For silent falls the guilty sun
As day to dark does turn
One simple truth she dare not speak:
Her light can only blind and burn

No mercy for the guilty
Bring down their lying sun
Blood so silver black by night
Upon their faces pale white

Cruel moon, bring the end
The dawn will never rise again.

She got it!

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My wife, Patti, finally got a Music Director job! She told me to please express her heartfelt gratitude for the prayers and support she received during the time she searched for work. May God reward you for your goodness.

She will begin May 1st at St. Philip Neri parish in Metairie. He’s the patron saint of laughter, so we are grateful also for that temperament alignment. They had a wonderful and faithful music director for many years, but, in all of my objectivity (and Patti would not appreciate this praise), I can say that St. Philip is about to discover a new charism awakening in their midst.

St. Augustine captured her unique charism well in a phrase, Cantare amantis est, “singing is for lovers.” That’s Patti’s gift, she sings out of her love for God. I mentioned before on this blog that a famous jazz and blues singer in Florida, who converted to Catholicism, said to Patti one day after Mass: “Every time you sing the Lamb of God, I’m converted all over again.”

I’ll leave you with a recording I made of her rehearsing a Good Friday song, so you can hear that same gift:

Lent, the Liturgy of Agápē

Lent! It’s here, the party’s over. The liturgy bids us cease the festive parades of Carnival and enter the quiet desert of heart-rending penitence. In place of the laughter and cheer of Mardi Gras, we now hear the weeping of Adam, the dirge of Eve that echoes still from the primal Fall (Gen 3:19), along with the press of mortal ash that crosses our foreheads:

Memento, homo, quia pulvis es,
et in pulverem reverteris.
“Remember, man, you are dust
and to dust you will return.”

Liturgy is God’s manner of (re)structuring and redeeming time and space.

We who have been Baptized into Christ and anointed by the Spirit become ourselves liturgical beings, seized by the redeeming work of God (Phil. 3:12). In us the Holy Spirit recapitulates the life, death and resurrection of Christ so that we might be daily remade in His likeness. We pray, “Christ, live your life in me.”

Like a signet ring pressed into soft wax, the Spirit-filled liturgical seasons of the church year mark history’s unfolding with the diverse facets of the mystery of Christ. The church, born of and birthing the liturgy, makes the Kingdom’s re-ordering of time and space present here-and-now, in innumerably creative ways. Just think of how — no matter the distortions — these liturgical seasons and feasts have shaped the American culture of time: Advent-Christmas, Mardi Gras, Groundhog Day (Presentation of the Lord), Valentine’s Day, Lent, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter.

Liturgy, when it is made alive in us, is meant to become a primary locus and force of the Spirit’s shaping of human culture according to the pattern revealed by Christ in His words and deeds (Ex. 25:9). In the Sacraments we become a living, breathing, walking, speaking, singing, working, suffering sacramental liturgy in the world, allowing the Risen Christ, now exalted beyond history, to daily “crash the party” of life, transforming revelry into the celebration of redemption. As liturgical beings, we permit Christ in each moment of history, through-with-in us, to “do His thing” in all human cultures until the end of time.

Lent is the liturgical space-time warp when the church accompanies Jesus into the great silence of the Judean desert and face the ancient Tempter of humanity with all the weapons of the Father, i.e. prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Let me offer a brief reflection on each of these.

Prayer: Prayer is intimate communion with the living God that allows us to bring our existence under the sway of His energetic power. Prayer affirms our dignity as stewards of God’s creation, allowing us to participate in His providential governance of all things, including evil. We have all been marked in Baptism with a priestly nature, and priests above all mediate, which makes each of us a center of commerce, so to speak, between heaven and earth. In this sense, prayer exists to increase in the world Heaven’s premier commodity, agápē. Agápē, in the New Testament, is the catch word for the singular manifestation of the “no greater love” shown by God in Christ on the Cross. This form of love is the signet ring’s image, the signature style by which God governs all things. It’s why the demons, purveyors of loveless death, despise prayer because they know it is Heaven’s chosen means by which creation is soaked in God’s life-giving and redeeming love. Fr. Hopko makes this point with his customary sharpness:

If you wish to prove the existence of Satan, start praying daily with depth and consistency and watch all Hell break loose to try to stop you with a thousand good reasons why you don’t need to pray now. “Not today, later, plenty of time” is their refrain. But God says to us, “Now is the time of salvation.”

Fasting: Fasting is usually associated with cultivating self-discipline, losing weight, taming the unruly passions, breaking addictions or helping turn our focus from purely material to more spiritual realities. In a word, fasting facilitates inner freedom for Christian excellence which requires self-mastery, with the appetites and emotions being under the rule of right-reason informed by faith. Fasting gives wings to prayer, helping snap our tethering cords and allowing us to feel in our bodies the ache of our yearning for God.

Fasting is also about exercising the muscle of solidarity — “I am my brother’s keeper” — under the form of hunger, inscribing the law of sacrifice into our body. Like a nursing mother, Christians eat always with the feeding of others in mind. Fasting involves renouncing good things, especially needful things, in order to free certain “goods” up to benefit others who lack them. This is why the demons hate fasting, because it frees the heart for agápē, for life-giving sacrifice. And whenever we present to God a sacrifice born of love for His glory and the good of our neighbor (tautology), no matter how tiny it is, God infallibly responds in a 100:1 ratio (Mark 10:30). St. Therese said this beautifully:

Even to pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.

Indeed, sacrificial love is the grain of God written into creation, marred in the Fall, and found deeply embedded in the core of the wood of the Cross. When we sync our lives with the endless rings of this grain, we re-create creation with the Creator.

Almsgiving: Almsgiving flows from prayer and fasting. We pray to become capable of loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind, strength and our neighbor as ourself. Prayer inspires us to offer to God our bodies as a living sacrifice, fasting prepares the material for the sacrificial feast and almsgiving is the feast offered to “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind” (Luke 14:13). This sacrificial feast can be a feast of food, of hope, of friendship, of justice advocacy, of time spent in patient listening or any number of other acts of agápē that bring life to the world around us.

As an elderly priest said once in a homily, “If we give up sweets for Lent, it’s so we can become sweeter to the bitter.” Love that.

In the desert and on the eucharistic Cross, Jesus prayed, fasted and gave sacrificial Alms to satisfy our hunger with finest Wheat and quench our thirst with the rivers of tender mercy that flowed from His open side. God’s liturgy of love makes of every desert an oasis and of every Cross a Tree of Life.

There is a woman I know — have known for decades — who has a son with Down Syndrome, who is himself beset by several severe disabilities. We will call him Tony. Among his many challenges, he has a sleeping disorder that keeps him up for 3-day stretches 2 to 3 times a month. And this has gone on for nearly 30 years. Because he is terrified of being alone during the night during these stretches, she stays awake with him, and then works during the day while he is at school. That astounds me. Once when I was speaking with her, I complimented her amazing stamina and selfless love for him. She said, “No, it’s Tony who’s the champ. He’s the one who suffers with this. Me? I have the privilege to accompany him. You know I say that if I’m ever saved when I die, it’ll only be because of Tony. He pulled me out of my self-centered life and taught me how to love.”

And is that not the meaning of salvation? To think less of yourself in order to think more of others.

Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. — 1 Pet. 4:8

This Lent, may our chosen way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving thus save us, and the world, with the beauty of Christ’s sacrificial love.

Judean desert. swordsoftruth.com

Mardi Gras

My friend Austin, at his blog, Risking Reality, included this absolutely stunning quote from Pope Benedict. I will share it with you here and then embed three videos I took at the Endymion parade Saturday evening. What fun, as we combated demons that night with the sober intoxication of Christian laughter!

It seems incongruous to speak of Mardi Gras in a theological meditation, because it is at best only indirectly a time in the Church year. But are we not somewhat schizophrenic in this regard? On the one hand, we are only too ready to say that it is precisely in Catholic countries that Mardi Gras is most at home; on the other hand, we nevertheless ignore it both spiritually and theologically. Is it, then, one of those things that as Christians we cannot condone, but as humans we cannot deny? In that case we should ask: Just how human is Christianity?

Granted, Mardi Gras is heathen in origin: fertility cult and exorcism merge in it. But it was the Church that had to step in and speak the exorcism that banned the demons who do violence to men and destroy their happiness. Then, after the exorcism, something unexpected, something new, appeared – a merrymaking that is wholly exorcised.

Mardi Gras is to Ash Wednesday a time of laughter before the time of penance, a time of lighthearted self-irony, whose laughter speaks a truth that may well be closely akin to that of the Lenten preacher.

Thus Mardi Gras, when it has been exorcised, reminds us of the words of the Old Testament preacher: “…a time to weep, and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). For Christians, too, it is not always a time for penance. There is likewise a time for laughter. Yes, Christian exorcism has routed the masked demons and replaced them by the laughter that has been exorcised.

All of us know how far removed from this ideal our present Mardi Gras often is; how frequently it is mammon and its henchmen that reign there. This is why we Christians do combat, not against, but in favor of, laughter. To struggle against demons and to laugh with those who laugh – these are inseparably united. The Christian has no need to be schizophrenic: Christian Faith is truly human.

 

Ashley and Maria, Sh-Boom

Life Could Be a Dream may be my favorite Mashley video yet. It’s playful and joyful, with fun harmonies, smiles and slip ups. It was recorded in the seminary on Friday night, with the Blessed Mother behind them outside smiling, unquestionably. And a blooper bonus at the end.

My heart sang. I love Mashley.