Monday, February 18, 2013

How Not to Keep Lent

Maria Romine (whose conversion story you can watch here) was talking about her first Lent as a Catholic.

Maria Romine (the only good person in the Theater of the Word Incorporated) as St. Jeanne Jugan
"I gave up caffeine - no coffee or tea at all," she said to the two priests who were hosting us for dinner at their parish in Rhode Island.  "I was angry and crabby for forty days.  But by the time Easter came, I was so proud that I was able to make such a sacrifice and that I kept it up all that time."

"Which ruined the entire sacrifice," I exclaimed.  "Yes, Maria, your pride in your penance will no doubt send you straight to hell.  Some Lent!"

Of course I was joking - though there was a point behind the humor.


On Saturday I was in Kansas, planning on going to the Vigil Mass at a large suburban parish in Kansas City.  I've been there before.  One "peace" isn't enough.  They make you turn around and greet your neighbors before Mass even begins.  Haugen and Haas and Schutte dominate the music, which is really schutte music, and the place is packed with a kind of giddy stupid excitement that makes it darned near impossible to pray, much less worship.  But as it turns out I couldn't make it to the Vigil - not that I minded.

What it's like at the suburban parish vigil Mass
And after a nine hour drive on Sunday, my last remaining Mass option was the 6:00 pm Sunday Mass in the chapel at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee, where I ended up by the end of the day.  It was nine hours from the KC suburbs, but a universe away.

St. Jude Chapel, Aquinas College, Nashville, TN
St. Jude chapel is small, plain, and the Sunday night Mass has no music.  The atmosphere was reverent, solemn and sane.  The priest gave one of the best homilies on Lent that I have ever heard.  The main point was Keep Lent like Maria Romine and you'll go straight to hell.

Or, to put it more charitably, our biggest temptation during Lent is to look at our penances as accomplishments of ours to show God how good we are or to make some sort of impact in heaven.  They should rather be ways of reminding ourselves how much we depend upon God - and how many blessings and graces He gives us.  They should be ways of opening ourselves up to his grace - which is the only thing that transforms us, not our own efforts.

Likewise, Christ's temptations in the desert are temptations common to all men.  He is tempted

  • To turn stones into bread - or to use his spiritual gifts to satisfy his physical desire (see pretty much everything I've written the last month or so, which is almost all on this very subject); whereas "man does not live by bread alone".
  • To use his gifts for worldly advantage, to rule over the nations.  How ubiquitous this temptation is for us, day in and day out.  The world is all about power and success, even more than it is about sex, and we go through life breathing this poisoned air, and assuming that success in this world is all there is.  This gives rise to the heresy of Activism, and to Catholics arguing that we must ignore Christ's teaching in order to bring His Kingdom to bear on earth - for worldly success is all that we really think matters.
  • To put God to the test - to think of Him as a tool or gimmick of ours that we can use to turn our lives to our own narrow advantage - to put God in a box and make him do tricks for us.  

Such are the temptations of man, and such are we that we eagerly respond to these temptations, even the best of us, even Maria Romine!  


May we offer up our Lenten sufferings with true humility, knowing that the only lasting reality is Love, and that if we trust in God's Love - in His precious blood - to save us, He will strip from us all the things that are standing in the way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Kevin, hope this finds you well.

It always seems traditional to give up on coffee or sin of sins - chocolate :P Though for me personally i feel the best sacrifice in Lent are those things, aspects, characteristics we express and go through that we know is keeping us bound up from growing as people, as messengers, apostles, warriors, that we are aware that they're affecting our family, friends, community badly and yet we still do it and excuse ourselves with "that's how/who i am".

I can count a good number of things that affect badly on myself (such as anxiety among others), and on other people around me. Because we have personal 'coffee' and 'choc' addictions it is more wholesome to overcome - or rather suffer these personal things as an offering to God to approach Him in humility & to express how much we need to be closer to Him; and in suffering from my part through overcoming occasions of unnecessary anxiety i feel that in those times i'm never alone, which makes me certain that it will be worth it in the end. Not just for me but also for many say who are in much worse cases than me, who are spiritually vulnerable and have cut themselves off from God.

Correct me if i'm wrong on this.