Running On Empty

Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. Most years I try to “give something up” to honor the sacrifice that Christ made for all of us. This year I’m struggling more than ever. Somehow the usual desserts or alcohol or cussing that I try (and fail) to refrain from just seems like more than I can handle. Because of the pandemic I have given up too much this past year. I just don’t think I can afford to give up one more thing. I miss seeing my Dad at his assisted living facility. I miss sons who live out of state. I miss my daughter-in-law. I miss my granddaughters and most especially kissing their sweet faces. I miss hugging my friends – somehow the elbow taps or fist bumps or “air hugs” just don’t cut it.

So here it is, Lent. Time for my Lenten journey. Time to “take up my cross” and make my sacrifices. I just want to say no! No more. Nothing left to give. I’m completely empty. I’m out. Try me next year.

Maybe I really won’t give up anything. Because you know poor me, who has sacrificed so much, really deserves a year off.

And then I am met by angels. Friends who humble me by their prayer and devotion. Family members who inspire me by their spirituality and love of God and all creation. Grandchildren who love me unconditionally and who offer me glimpses of heaven. My wife who has the patience of a saint and should be canonized one day just for the miracle of putting up with me for decades.

What can a poor, sorry, selfish sinner do? Well, first I can leave the pity party. Then I can start praying. And then I can try that again because I feel like bitching and moaning during prayer doesn’t accomplish much. And then I can remember something a new friend shared with me this week. It’s okay to bring all the noise with you into your prayer. All the distractions. All the discomforts. All the sadness. All the pain. And just hand it over to God.

So that’s what I’ve decided to give up for Lent this year (and hopefully forever), trying to be holy and focused and perfect in my prayer. I’m giving it up because I give up. And maybe when I’m completely empty my soul can be filled with the love of God.

And a drink and a dessert and cussword or two this Lenten season will just be as it should be.

Peace,

Denis

I Rise Again From Ashes

Traditionally most Catholic Christians go to Mass today and have a cross smudged on their foreheads with ashes – an outward sign of our mortality. Ironically at Ash Wednesday Mass we hear Matthew’s Gospel tell us, “Do not look gloomy like hypocrites” “wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting”. I’ve always found this somewhat puzzling. Matthew tells us, “your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you” but we dutiful Catholics march off proudly showing our ashes to all who can see.

I usually give up something for Lent. Often I am grumbling as loud as my stomach – I need a hamburger! Still, to do without some nonessential that I love seems like a reasonable sacrifice and it might help put me in a more prayerful frame of mind. And yet, skipping desert or giving up my favorite cocktail is hardly ‘suffering as Christ suffered’. I’d prefer to think that fasting and abstaining from food and luxuries will give me a physical emptiness that might make me more keenly aware of my spiritual emptiness.

I need to stop talking. I need to stop feeding my mind with endless noise. I need to stop over-thinking. Once I’m empty, truly empty and once I’m quiet, truly quiet then perhaps I can be filled with the Holy Spirit. During that nano-second of time when I finally let go of EVERYTHING, God can reach me. God is always there but I am rarely available. Letting go and letting God. This is scary territory. I like to be a man of action. Sitting around and waiting for God to touch me in some simple or profound way is very unsettling. I don’t usually think that I have time for that!

As a father, I’ve always prayed that my children (and grandchildren) would have a humbling experience. A reminder that they are not always going to get their way or have their say. Nothing that would crush their spirits but some setback or disappointment that would make them realize that they need others; that they need God. And that they will rise again to do great things with great love.

For me Lent is my humbling experience. I realize that I need this time each year to reflect on my weakness; my sinfulness; my need for forgiveness; my need for others and my need for God. So, during this Lenten season I need to be still. I need to be present. I need to open my heart and my soul. And wear my ashes humbly.

It would be much easier to give up that hamburger. 

Peace,

Denis

Relax. It’s Just Lent.

For millions of Catholics and other Christians, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. In observance of Christ’s death and resurrection, forty days are set aside in the Church calendar. During these forty days, many people make personal sacrifices as part of their Lenten journey.

Some folks feel tremendous pressure to “give up” something to honor Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. Or to “do something” honorable or charitable or extra-holy. I must admit that I have found myself feeling the need to do more (or less) some years. Sometimes the sacrifice(s) will have the result of putting me in a foul mood (that year without caffeine was painful and probably unhealthy). I’m hardly honoring Jesus by snapping at someone because I want their coffee and I want them to shut the hell up. So I think it might be time to give myself a break. Besides, my bad behavior or bad habits or good behavior or good habits will not change the fact that Jesus died for my sins. His gift of love is not “earned” by my worthiness. Likewise it is not withheld because of my lack of fortitude.

So this again this year I will try to follow the example of friends and family members who, by their quiet example of love and devotion to God, are models of Christianity. I am thankful for a wife who always shows me how to live a Christ-like life. Deb is never afraid to show public outrage at injustice or public displays of affection. She loves completely. I’m not her equal when it comes to kindness. I’m polite. She’s loving. I’m accepting. She’s forgiving. I try. She does.

It’s just Lent. Somehow that seems too easy. I can give up ham sandwiches on Fridays. And stop drinking caffeine or alcohol for forty days. I can volunteer at some charity for a few weeks. Perhaps pray a little more or get to church more often. But what’s the point of doing all those things for Lent and then remaining an asshole all year-long?

I think I need to look at the whole year. I will try to smile more, listen better, remain calmer, forgive more, judge less, care more, and love more deeply. And not just for these forty days. Everyday. Always.

So if you’re like me and not a shining example of Lenten sacrifice, perhaps this is the year to forgive yourself and just try to do your best. I suppose that I could give up cursing for Lent. But what the hell?

Peace,

Denis

I Give Up

Another Lenten season and yesterday I was thinking, “what should I give up?” Each year the Church sets aside these 40 days in preparation for Easter. But for me there’s more to it than just giving up something or making some sacrifice. Lent should be a time for spiritual renewal.

Spirit renewal – easy words to say; much harder to put into practice. Where to start? What to do? And why? I mean really, sometimes why bother??? So much blah, blah, blah, holy, holy, holy…

CaptureSunday at mass it will be the same priest, the same boring or out-of-touch homily, the same listless liturgy, and sometimes I just want to “phone it in”. I’ll go through the motions but I can’t help but wonder if my time might not be better spent cleaning out a closet or organizing the cabinets in my office. I suppose I could pray while I straighten out my clutter. Isn’t cleanliness next to Godliness or something like that?

But today is Ash Wednesday and I’m here at my office in Mexico City. So Jimena and Alberto and I went to the little church on the corner and received ashes and listened to Scripture (in Spanish, of course) and I realized then what I need to “give up” this year.

I need to give up my cynicism, my unrealistic expectations of others, my pride, my stubbornness, my impatience, and so much more. If I empty myself, I might be filled with the Spirit. I suppose I’ve been waiting for everyone else to get better. I want the “holy ones” to deliver their message more clearly, more succinctly, more passionately, more inclusively, but perhaps the real problem is the receiver.

Today I’m proudly wearing my ashes and getting fewer confused stares here in Mexico than I would be in the States. I’ve even been thanked by a few people for reminding them that they still need to get to church. Maybe this is a good place to start my spiritual renewal.

Paz,

Denis