How to do Lent in the fast lane?
More to the point, how to do Lent when I’m catching myself running in circles?
This time of year is uber busy, fragmented and exhausting for Oklahoma House Members. How do I find time to pray more than Now I lay me and Bless us oh Lord?
What of the disciplines of fasting, alms and deep examination of conscience? Does all that go by the board when I’m stuck eating whatever is put in front of me and almost never get a moment alone?
I’m certain that I’m not the only person who finds themselves caught in a whirlpool of busyness during these days of Lent. That is, after all, our modern curse.
We are overwhelmed by a tsunami of too much: Too much stuff, too many activities and far too many people competing for our attention.
“Doing” Lent under those circumstances can easily reduce itself down to its lowest common denominator. Tuna sandwich for lunch on Fridays? Check. Grilled cheese for lunch on Ash Wednesday? Check. Confession, whether you need it or not? Check and check. And, oh yes, keep your sticky little fingers out of the candy dish at work.
Here we are, dealing with the fulcrum of history; the moment at which everything changed. We are considering the point at which the hopelessness of vanity, vanity all is vanity before Calvary was transformed into the birth of life everlasting after Calvary. Everything turns on that hilltop with the three crosses 2,000 years ago.
Lent is designed to take us there. It is meant to bring us to our knees before the foot of the cross where we can be born again.
But when you’re being drug by the runaway horse of overwhelming busyness that is our modern life, how do you do more than the minimum? How do you find the space, the quiet, the time to hear that still small voice?
I’ve dealt with this for years and to be honest, I’ve never found a fully satisfactory answer for it. Doing the minimum isn’t so minimum when it’s all you can manage. There is an element of faithfulness involved in those tuna sandwiches and skipped candy.
The trouble with doing the minimum is that it leaves you basically the same as you were before you did it. You don’t necessarily slide back spiritually the way you would if you didn’t try at all, but you won’t grow in Christ by doing the minimum. The minimum leaves you spiritually fed, but at a bare sustenance level.
Doing the minimum is just a step above not doing at all. It’s easy to slide from the minimum to less than the minimum and a deteriorating faith walk that leaves you half Christian.
How does anyone grow spiritually while living the lives we do, where emotional fracturing and distancing from faith seem built into the structure of it?
My advice, which is the advice of a woman whose Lenten practices are mostly a matter of minimums sandwiched into busyness, is to do at least the minimum, no matter what. Even if it means eating really substandard food like a spoonful of banquet carrots with a spoonful of banquet mashed potatoes with some kind of something that’s supposed to be gravy for lunch, do the minimum. Do it even if you can’t for the life of you remember your sins and have to search your memory while you’re standing in line outside the confessional.
I have a completely personal theology for doing the minimum that I call “God supplies the lacks.” What I mean by that is that I trust that if I don’t remember to confess every sin, or even my most important sins, God, Who knows everything about me, will supply the lacks and forgive me my forgetfulness, He supplies the lacks in my confession. God supplies the lacks. I don’t have anything but my own faith to base that on, but I believe it to a profound level.
I am not talking about deliberate refusal to do what you should when you have the opportunity to do it. I mean when you’re grinding metal in your life, God will supply the lacks to see you through it spiritually intact. All you have to do is your part, by which I mean those minimums offered up with the knowledge that the minimum is not really enough to keep you spiritually healthy for the long haul and a firm intention to do more and do better when you can.
This leads me to the “when you can” part of that. If your life is like Marine Corp boot camp 52 weeks out of every year, you really need to re-think your way of living. Otherwise, you’re going to be talking to God face to face a lot sooner than you expect. No one can use themselves up without breaking stride for their whole span of days.
You have to take time outs. It is essential to your sanity, health and purpose as a human being. For a workaholic, time out requires discipline. It is just as difficult for someone who is inured to a life of constant stimulation and overwork to take a pause as it is for a couch potato to get up and get moving. They are two sides of the same self-destructive coin.
Obeying the commandment to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” is your best friend in this. I didn’t know this a year ago. I didn’t even know it six months ago. I had one of those spoing! moments of insight that occasionally come along. I realized that I had been breaking one of the commandments without realizing the significance of what I was doing.
It’s not easy for someone like me to quit working for one full day each week. But I have found it to be my new best friend. I recommend it for anyone and everyone as a bare minimum of Christian living. It not only rests your mind; it opens your heart to God. I was surprised by the effect this simple act of obedience had on my closeness with Christ. If your job requires you to work on Sunday and you can’t get out of it, my advice is take your sabbath rest on another day. Do not cheat yourself of this great gift of the Sabbath.
Sunday rest is another bare minimum of Christian followership. But if you add it to the bare minimums of fasting, confession, weekly eucharist, you will find that they combine to lift you out of the basement Christian walk of maintenance spirituality and into a gentle curve of Christian growth.
Doing Lent in the fast lane is often about doing the minimum. The minimum will starve you spiritually over the long haul. But if you do it with love of Christ, you will be able to make up for it at other times.
That’s how I get through it. I do the minimum, and whatever else I can in addition to that minimum. And I trust God to supply the lacks.
St Thomas said, “my Lord and my God.” My Lord, which means the One who decides. You decide, not me. You judge. I am the judged. You are the Lord of my life, which means I give fealty to you in all areas of my existence; in my work, play, home, and down to the secret corners of me that only You and I know exist. You are my Lord, my God. I do not confuse myself by thinking that I am the Lord. I know always, that the Lord of my life is you.
Jesus, born of a human mother, raised as the son of a carpenter, died at the hands of rapacious human power. You are human and I am human. You understand hunger, thirst, grief and temptation. You know what it is to be tortured, mocked, humiliated, shamed and murdered. You understand absolutely what it is to be helpless prey in the hands of human monsters in whom there is no pity, no remorse, not a shred of kindness. You are Jesus, my brother, who understands me with the tenderness of having been there with me in the depths of my experience.
Fulfiller of prophecy, God made human, the Great I Am; you are the Christ, the only Way to eternal life. Your death and resurrection are the unending testament to the Christ, the Savior of the World that you are.
Begotten, not made, You, who are the son of Mary, are also the great I Am. You declared “Before Abraham was, I Am,” and by saying that, you identified yourself forever with the One who has no beginning and will have no end.
OF THE LIVING GOD
God, Who lives and reigns over all creation. God, Who made everything, everywhere. God Who is outside time, outside the rules that govern existence, but Who, through the miracle of His greatness calls to every human heart. You, Oh Lord, are Son and One with Him.
Only faith in Your love could allow me to approach Your throne and ask for mercy. I do not deserve mercy. My hubris and sin define me too clearly as undeserving and lost. But You came to live among us, You died on the cross, for me and my lostness. You came to seek and find me, to redeem me, to bring me to You, and through Your sacrifice to restore me to what I was intended to be. You, Who have no sin, become sin, my sin, to pay the price and ransom me, to save me from getting what I deserve and from eternal death.
Me. The one and only me that ever was or ever will be. The beautiful, priceless, totally unique and beautiful me that You have created in Your image, and into whom You breathed the breathe of life. I not just a body that processes chemicals and will one day die and rot. I am a living soul, and my soul was made in Your Image. You gave me the power to chose, to decide, to go my own way and live according to whatever light I decide to follow. You made me free, even to reject You. Or, to turn to You to love You and accept Your guidance like the child I am, slipping my hand into the hand of my Father.
I am a child of the Fall, as well as a child of God. The stubborn stain of original sin mars my soul and leads me into the idolatry of self. I, who came to life on the breath of the Living God, am prone to iniquity. I can not stop myself. I can not do otherwise. I will sin. Of myself, there can be no salvation.
Which is why I pray,
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18
This is the 9th and last day of our Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
For this last meditation of our Novena, let’s look at what it all means.
What does it mean to be Christ crucified in the world today?
It means that you are the living representation of that day long ago on Calvary when Our Lord, who was without sin, became sin itself for our sakes. It means that, just as satan poured out his rage against God onto Jesus by acting through other people, he is now pouring out his rage against Jesus on you, and he is doing it once again through his actors in this world; other people.
Demonic possession is not just the stuff of movies. It happens in real life, all the time, everyday. However, it doesn’t usually manifest itself in spinning heads, flying objects and spitting pea soup.
When the devil walks in this world, he almost always does it on two feet. When he acts out his hatred and destructive desires, he almost always uses human hands and speaks with a human voice.
There is no bottom to his hatred, and there is no limit to the cruelty and depravity of his followers. Whatever bad thing they do today, they will do worse tomorrow.
Christ is crucified in the world today in places where satan’s disciples are freed by circumstance to act out his hatred of Father, Son and Holy Ghost by attacking the living representation of them: Christians. There is no nation or community on this earth that is exempt from becoming satan’s active disciple by virtue of their virtue or their wisdom or their knowledge.
Germany and the Soviet Union had many of the greatest scientists, most subtle and acute artists and philosophers the world has ever known. And yet they fell prey to satan’s leadership. Rwandans slaughtered with clubs and machetes, but it was fealty to the same satan that drove them to do it.
Only fealty to the Risen Christ can save us from following the darkness away from the Light. The miracle is that by fealty to Christ, we not only save ourselves from falling into the darkness, we become the Light in this world.
Satan is a ravening hunger that craves annihilation. His followers, many of whom do not believe he exists, are shades of him in both those things. They hunger with a hunger for they know not what and crave annihilation with a compulsive drive. That is why everything they do turns in the end to death.
It is also why they attack and try to darken the Light of Christian witness wherever they find it.
The millions of Christians who suffer constant fear, dread of violence and the degradation of second-class citizenship in the world today are, wherever they are, the Light of Christ. When they are reviled, falsely arrested, attacked, beaten, raped, kidnapped, tortured and murdered, they become Christ before Pilate, Christ scourged, Christ mocked, reviled and hung up naked to die in front of a mocking, jeering crowd.
He Who had no sin became sin for us. He suffers again in His followers who are His living martyrs today.
If that was the end of the story, it would just be another holocaust in a devil-besotted world that plays host to a genocide glut. But it is not the end. In fact, it is the beginning.
Jesus died on Calvary. He was buried and left to rot in His tomb. But on the third day, He rose from that grave. Not, notice that He was raised, as He Himself had raised Lazarus. He rose. He is God and He arose from the dead on the third day.
He became what St Paul calls “the first fruits” of the resurrection that awaits us all.
There is no death.
Not for those who follow Christ.
Nor for their persecutors.
The difference lies in what waits for them on the other side.
Those who follow Our Lord to the death are assured of their place in heaven. Those who are reviled, shunned and attacked for Him are also blessed. Rejoice and be glad, Jesus said of people who are slandered for Him, for great is your reward in heaven.
These people who are Christ crucified in our world today are not victims. They are victors. They are guaranteed eternal life in heaven.
Ironically, it is the ones who persecute them who are in the most peril. They are laying up an eternity in hell for themselves where they will be the only thing their master the devil has left to torment and hurt.
It is a scalding thing to look into the eyes of another person and see satan looking back at you. It must be unimaginable suffering to look for eternity into the cold, pitiless, eyes of satan himself.
We must pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray that the Holy Spirit will walk with them through their passion in Our Lord’s name. Pray that the same Holy Spirit will lift them and their sacrifice for Him up high, where all the world can see it. Pray that He will show us all what we can do to help them and to end this persecution.
Pray, finally, that we will not fail when our time of persecution comes, no matter how small it may be. Pray that the Holy Spirit will guard us from denying Him, even in the small social ways of going along with the larger culture. Pray that we will follow Him, as our brothers and sisters are doing, and that He, not the pleasures of this world, will be the Lord of our lives.
All Christians who follow Christ will suffer for Him in this world. There are no exceptions. Some Christians have the privilege of suffering extreme persecution for Him. Others, He does not trust so much. But there can be no peace between the gods of this world and the Kingdom. Not for any of us.
Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 9. Please pray it and ask others to join you.
Glorious Saint Michael, guardian and defender of the Church of Jesus Christ, come to the assistance of His followers, against whom the powers of hell are unchained. Guard with special care our Holy Father, the Pope, and our bishops, priests, all our religious and lay people, and especially the children. Saint Michael, watch over us during life, defend us against the assaults of the demon, and assist us especially at the hour of death. Help us achieve the happiness of beholding God face to face for all eternity. Amen. Saint Michael, intercede for me with God in all my necessities, especially for the conversion of the world,that from pole to pole,dateline to dateline,all will call out Jesus' name. Obtain for me a favourable outcome in the matter I recommend to you. Mighty prince of the heavenly host, and victor over rebellious spirits, remember me for I am weak and sinful and so prone to pride and ambition. Be for me, I pray, my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty, and above all do not forsake me in my last struggle with the powers of evil. Amen.
This is Holy Week.
It is also the week in which the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments on Proposition 8 and DOMA. The potential is there for a major change in the way American law defines marriage. This could have far-reaching effects which none of us can predict for foresee.
What better week to issue a call to prayer than Holy Week? Tuesday is the day we have the Chrism Mass. Priests renew their vows at this mass and the holy oils which will be used throughout the upcoming year are blessed. It’s a beautiful mass and I urge anyone who can to attend.
History is coming at us so fast it’s hard to keep up. But we need to remember that this week, above all weeks, is a time for extra prayer and penance. I don’t want to make too much of it, but it seems poignant that so many points of history are converging on this one week. Proponents of traditional marriage are also staging a march in Washington, DC on Tuesday.
The cross, which defines this week and the life of the world, is not just a point of history. It is history. The cross is the fulcrum of all history. There was the world before the cross and the world after it, which is to say that there was the world without hope and the world without despair. Despair is impossible to anyone who understands the power of the cross.
We suffer in this life. We experience loss, setbacks, pain, loneliness, failure and grief. But we are never without hope because our hope is in the One who died for us on Calvary.
We need to pray this week, and not just for ourselves and our families, but for all the world that this light of Christ will shine in the darkness of the human heart everywhere.
This article, by our brothers and sisters at The Baptist Press, has details of the upcoming arguments before the Supreme Court:
NASHVILLE (BP) — On Tuesday and Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases regarding the issue of same-sex marriage. Few issues rise to this level of importance.
These two cases will do much to answer the question for how marriage is going to be viewed in the United States for the foreseeable future. On Tuesday, the court will hear arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop. 8). In this case, the court is being asked to decide the fate of Proposition 8 in California. At stake is whether or not the people of California can define marriage in their constitution as only the union of one man and one woman. In a worst-case scenario in deciding Hollingsworth, the court could rule unconstitutional the definition of marriage as only the union of one man and one woman, repudiating two and a quarter centuries of American jurisprudence in which marriage has been defined and regulated by each state, not the federal courts. Every state that has passed such laws would be affected. It would also be going against several millennia of the Judeo-Christian definition of marriage.
On Wednesday, the court will hear arguments in United States v. Windsor. That case deals with the constitutionality of section three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The Windsor case creates the possibility that the court could overturn DOMA in its entirety. DOMA is important at many levels. For one, it protects states that do not support same-sex marriage from being required to recognize same-sex marriages that have been performed in states where the practice is legal. For another, it provides a standard definition of marriage for all federal programs, assuring that only heterosexual marriage is recognized across all federal government programs. It also provides protections for federal workers from being forced to violate their consciences regarding marriage. If DOMA is overturned, military chaplains will be especially vulnerable to pressures to accommodate an expanded definition of marriage in their ministries. (Read the rest here.)
The Immaculate Conception is the door opening on our salvation.
It is God the Father, preparing the way for the birth of God the Son by first preparing a holy mother for Him.
The idea that God chose to enter the world as a helpless baby, born to a young girl and her carpenter husband in a backwater province of a conquered nation goes against everything we know and believe about what makes a person important.
We live in a world where might makes right and the biggest and meanest get to make all the rules. This disregard for the little people of the world was even more pronounced in that long-ago day when Our Lady was conceived. This tiny spark of humanity, who was destined to become the bearer of the hope of all humankind, was, if possible, even less important to the worldly world than her baby son would be at His beginning.
She was, after all, a girl in a world that to this day regards little girls as less than worthless. She was that half of humanity which was often exposed at birth and left to rot. Even today in large swaths of what we call civilization, baby girls are aborted because they are girls, and if they are born, killed shortly afterwards. Girls in these cultures often get less food, little education and almost no support in their development as people. They are subjected to brutalities ranging from female genital mutilation, to child marriages, rape and battering.
And yet, God chose, with every possibility possible at His disposal, to come into our world through the motherhood of a young woman. God entrusted Himself to a mother from His conception to His eventual death on the cross. It was a woman who gave Him life and who nurtured, shaped and reared Him into young manhood. This does not take anything away from Joseph’s contribution. Fathers are just as important as mothers. But today we are considering the one person who was with Jesus from conception to grave, and who then was there at Pentecost when the Church was born.
Mary is the mother of us all, the essential human contribution to the undoing of the curse of the Fall. She was prophesied at the Fall and she will be there at the real end when Jesus comes again.
And it began with her conception, when God re-created the lost innocence of Eden in a new Eve who would give birth to the salvific Child to undo our transgressions. This great re-wind started then, in her Immaculate Conception. It was the long-awaited door opening. This feast day is our chance to go back and re-learn what has been given to us by a young girl who, conceived without sin as the original Eve had been, did not falter in her mission as that earlier Eve did, but remained sinless until her own death.
God gave us Mary, and Mary, through her obedience and faith, gave us His son.
She is not, as some traditions try to treat her, a mindless incubator we bring out for Christmas pageants and then forget the rest of the year. Our Lady is woven into the story of the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. Everything that is wholly human about Our Lord comes from and through her. She gave us her Son, first at His birth and then later at Calvary; and He in turn, gave us His mother.
The Immaculate Conception is a door opening on the end of hopelessness and death. It is a cell-sized point of light shining in the darkness of our own devices. Mary, Our Mother, began the way we all did, as a single cell made in the image and likeness of God.
Christ’s humanity is her humanity. Her dignity is our dignity. She is our mother for the ages.