Re-Lent

Relent:  1. to become less severe, harsh, or strict. 2. to cease resistance.

Perhaps it’s time for me to relent. Or “Re-Lent”, if you will. Because it’s Lent, some of my Catholic friends are giving up or doing without some of their favorite things again this year. But for me, it’s more about looking inward. I can give stuff up but I don’t think that will really fill me spiritually. I need to “fix” me. I need to become less severe, harsh and strict. And that can only happen if I cease my resistance. It’s much easier to fix other people; to point out their failings; to judge their misdeeds; to excuse their ignorance. But when it’s my turn – well that’s not so easy.

I struggle with the ultra-conservatives. The narrow-mindedness of certain Christians is nothing less than appalling. I feel that some folks cloak themselves in “churchiness” to excuse or justify their racism, sexism, and homophobia. It seems that sometimes faithfulness equals exclusivity and sectarianism. I recently read that “the resurgence of women wearing chapel veils at Catholic mass is an outward statement against modernity and its lies. A political statement against a society that tells us that men and women are the same and that gender is not important when people want to marry.” What a sad commentary on our Church today. I thought Jesus called us all.

acceptanceWhen I attend mass and the priest seems hell-bent on telling us that we’re hell-bound, I want to scream, “Hey I’m here! I’m trying to pray; to worship; to rejoice. But your message week-in and week-out seems to be that I’m not worthy enough; not pious enough; not sorry enough for my sins. Prayerful posturing, sing-songy recitations and chapel veils don’t really set my soul on fire. How about some peace? Some love? Some joy?”

I’m not looking for miracles. I just want to belong to a group of believers that will carry me for a while as I struggle to find my own way.

I want to re-lent. I need to cease my resistance. Not to the message of others but to the message of God. I need to be less severe; less judgmental. I can worship with and even love those with whom I can never agree. Why? Because Jesus told us to love one another. He didn’t tell us who to love. He just showed us how to love.

So I promise to carry you when you need it (and when I can). Because I want to feel something other than frustration and disappointment. I want to hear something besides condemnations and admonishments.

Love. It’s what’s for Lent. Won’t you join me?

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

Second Chances and then some…

We all fail. Some of us catastrophically. Some of us daily. But trying again – ‘getting back up on that horse’, ‘picking ourselves up and shaking off the dust’, ‘going back to the drawing board’ – however you want to say it. It’s worthwhile. (Hopefully) we all learn from our failures. If nothing else we can learn humility. And God knows this world could use a bit more of that.

A second chance can change everything.

Even jerks can be forgiven

Even jerks get second chances (I should know)

Humbled by my mistakes I might be more considerate of others failings. Or I might learn to be more patient with myself. Often I’m reminded by my failures that I am a ‘work in progress’. Sometimes it’s just a subtle reminder that I’m not really in charge of anything other than how I react to the circumstances of my life. Other times I’m slapped with the reality that I just really screwed up! It’s those ‘screwing up’ times that resonate with me. I try not to spend too much time or energy on the coulda-shoulda-woulda stuff. Instead I thank God for the second (or third or fourth, etc., etc.) chance I’m being given and promise to do better.

I marvel as I watch my grandkids learning things for the first time. I am amazed at how hard they try to succeed – in school; in sports; in life. I cherish sharing some of the adventures that shape their young lives. And I pray that they will be afforded as many second chances as this old mistake-maker has been given. I have said “I am sorry” more times than I could count but I have heard “you are forgiven” even more.

During Lent I am reminded that it is a time to share my sorrow. And a time to be forgiven. And be gifted with yet another second chance.

Peace,

Denis

There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future’. Luke 13:6-9

 

 

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

 

Time To Purge

Lent began this week. Traditionally Catholic Christians go to Mass on Wednesday 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.

Most Catholics also “give up” something that they love as a sacrifice to honor the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for us or to remind us of the suffering of others. What I vividly remember as a child are anxious adults who would give up smoking or coffee or alcohol. As a kid I would sometimes give up candy (but not the chocolate kind) and end up as irritable as the adults – forty days without Bit-O-Honey! While I admire the idea of sacrificial suffering, perhaps giving up my favorite candy bar or vice isn’t necessarily the best way to honor Christ during Lent.

This Lenten season I am going to give up something (again). This year I’m going to purge. I’m going to clean out closets and give (things that I used to love) to those in need. I’m going to simplify my diet and donate excess food to a pantry. But mostly I’m going to try to get rid of the stuff that I really don’t need. I’m going to try to unload some of the crap that I’ve been piling up and carrying around far too long.

  • It’s time to let go of anger and resentment.
  • It’s time to say goodbye to disappointment and heartache.
  • It’s time to leave gossip, backbiting and hurtful words alone.
  • It’s time to give up prejudice and hatred.

It’s time to pack up and ship out all the garbage that keeps me from loving and being loved. I’m going to purge. I’m making a concerted effort to unload, unpack, and rid myself of anything that damages my relationships with others and God.

Truth be told, it would be much be easier to give up my favorite glass of wine or dessert than any of this stuff. But I will try, and try again…

Peace,

Denis

Stand

Today is Ash Wednesday and so starts my Lenten journey. Bring on the sackcloth and ashes; bring on the fasting and purging of excess! Take away the adornments and the Alleluia! Strip the altar bare and forego the glad tidings. Time to embrace suffering, loss, and sadness! REPENT!

But wait a minute. Didn’t Jesus bring us the “Good News”? Why must my journey through Lent be dismal? Why must these 40 days be all doom and gloom? Following the rules of fasting and abstinence doesn’t mean my Lenten journey must be joyless – does it? I suppose due to a healthy dose of Catholic guilt I’ve always felt bad about enjoying things a little too much during Lent. But thanks to my grandson Noah, this year will be different for me. Jesus said, “Bring the little children to me” so therefore I’m a big believer in three year-old wisdom.

This is what Noah taught me:

Last Sunday at Mass the choir was singing “Stand By Me” and of course the refrain repeats “stand by me” several times. During this hymn Noah launched into a sort of free-flowing liturgical dance (this boy loves music!). Anyway, I quietly suggested that he take a seat next to me. In a very loud and emphatic three year-old voice he told me, “But them just say-ded STAND BY ME!”

And he proudly stood. Rightly so.

Noah standing and singing!

Noah standing and singing!

By Noah’s example it occurred to me that standing (or dancing) or whatever joy we feel shouldn’t be diminished because of “what we should do”. God gives us joy to share with others; love is only love when given away. Lent shouldn’t just be about ‘giving up’ but also about ‘letting go’. Letting go of my preconceptions of what is right or wrong; what is worthy or unworthy; what is vital and what is unnecessary.

So this year I will reflect and pray and atone but I will not be sad. I will carry joy in my heart and I will STAND (and with Noah’s help I might even dance a little).

I hope that your spiritual journey this Lenten season is filled with hope, love and peace. But mostly joy!

When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.                      Matthew 6:17-18

Peace,

Denis

Trying To Be A Servant

Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. When he had washed their feet and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”  John 13:5, 12-15

In our Catholic tradition we celebrate Holy Thursday with foot-washing during the Eucharist. Last night I was honored (humbled actually) to be a part of our parish’s celebration. We are reminded by Jesus’ example that to truly serve God we must become servants to one another. This seems counter cultural in our society today.

Here in the United States we pride ourselves on being a nation of ‘movers and shakers’; of innovators; of doers; of deciders. We don’t just strive – we achieve. We outlast. We outwit. We out-perform. WE ARE NUMBER ONE!

Nothing says “success” quite like hiring out our mundane tasks. I have a very financially successful friend that frequently says, “I have a guy.” Which means he hires someone to do EVERYTHING while he can devote himself to more important tasks (like amassing more wealth so he can hire more guys). I admit I’m often envious. I can only imagine the sheer joy of handing unpleasant jobs off to another.

community_handsBut Jesus challenges me. How can I be a servant when I so desperately want to be served? This will require some prayer and some much-needed humility. I tried “serving” some people in my office today – offering to get someone a cup of coffee and bringing another their copies from the print room. Their reactions were very revealing. “Why are you doing this?” There was a sense of mistrust and confusion. “Are you joking; what do you really want?” Clearly I need to practice being a servant. I am ashamed that no one was comfortable with me in that role. Perhaps my own discomfort showed through in my weak attempt as a servant. What if my self-confidence is just thinly veiled arrogance and elitism? How will I ever really serve others?

On this Good Friday as I thank Jesus for his ultimate sacrifice, I am keenly aware of how much I still need His forgiveness.

Peace,

Denis

A Different Lenten Journey

This year my Lenten journey has been different from any year that I can recall. It’s not just because I’m living in England (although that has something to do with it); it’s that I’ve made a conscious effort to find God in all things – even the shitty stuff.

Each year I look at Lent as a time to cleanse my soul; refresh my spirit; and let go. This year I’ve decided to hold on. I’m holding on to grudges, hurts, disappointments, and hate and ‘staring them square in the eye.’ I’m forcing myself to encounter my own sinfulness. I’m examining the times when I have failed to love. Self-examination is not for the faint of heart but I’m reminded that God is always with me. Even during my lowest points I have not been abandoned.

Often when things don’t go my way I want to cry or scream or cuss (or all three). But usually the bad things pass or the disappointment fades or the hurt heals and I realize then that I could never survive without my faith. The faith that is nourished by my family, my friends and my community. The faith that sustains me during life’s heart-breaks, setbacks and disappointments.

It seems that disappointments come in all forms. My 18 month-old grandson Noah attends a gym class. Said gym class consists of running around on padded mats, swinging from bars, throwing the occasional ball and following some limited instructions with a bunch of other 1 or 2 year-olds. It’s great fun! This week while doing his “routine” he spied an obvious grandfather watching through the visitor’s window. Occasionally he would stop and wave at the man. At the end of class while Noah was walking toward him, the grandfather scooped a little girl up in his arms (apparently his own granddaughter). With that, Noah sat right down and cried. I’m not certain if he mistook the man for me but that’s what my daughter suspected. Maybe he just wanted to be held – don’t we all? Maybe he was wondering why he wasn’t the one being swept up into his Pawpaw’s arms? We’ll never know exactly what was going on in Noah’s little heart and mind.

Of course after hearing that story, I nearly sat on the floor and cried, too. Why did I leave my grandkids to come to England? Why must Noah cry? Why does the separation have to hurt so much at times? What can I do to make it right? At that moment I desperately needed Noah in my arms and still today I ache for his touch. On Easter I will have the joy of holding him and his sister and his cousin. Until then I will just hold on to the bittersweet thought of his disappointment. Poor Noah – poor me!

Jesus’ victory over death on Easter Sunday is our victory, too. But perhaps first we must embrace our own suffering to be truly joyous on that glorious day. I know that I will be beaming on Easter with Noah in my arms. Until then, I will have to continue my soul-searching and confront the pain and disappointments in my life. And remember that God will never abandon me.

Peace,

Denis

I Give Up!

It’s Lent and Catholics are expected time to ‘give up’ something. In years past I believed that by  ‘giving up’ or ‘doing without’ I was able to prove my mettle. I could wear it like a badge of honor – “Look at me – I’m stoic.” “I must be holy and worthy because I gave up eating chocolate or drinking alcohol, or stopped using curse words (a personal favorite) for forty days!” But didn’t that miss the point? Could I continue to be a jerk and give up candy and God would still be pleased?

I don’t mean to trivialize something that millions hold so dear and I also know that many people choose to make Lenten sacrifices to honor the great sacrifice that Jesus made for us. But for me at times it all seems so silly – so superficial.

“When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” Matthew 6:17-18

This year, “I give up!” I will let go of my need to ‘let go’.  Instead I will make a concerted effort to ‘do something’. A few years ago a friend sent this to me. It’s not necessarily a Lenten ‘to do list’ but it could be. I’m going to give it a try:

This Year

Mend a quarrel ~ Seek out a forgotten friend

Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust

Write a love letter ~ Share some treasure

Encourage youth ~ Appreciate one another

Manifest your loyalty in word and deed

Keep a promise ~ Find the time

Forgo a grudge ~ Forgive an enemy

Listen. Listen. Listen. ~ Apologize if you are wrong

Give a soft answer ~ Try to understand

Gladden the heart of a child

Examine your demands on others

Think first of someone else ~ Be kind; be gentle

Laugh a little ~ Laugh a little more

Deserve confidence ~ Flout envy

Take up arms against malice ~ Decry complacency

Express your gratitude ~ Welcome a stranger

Take pleasure in the beauty of the earth

Speak your love ~ Speak it again

Speak it once again

Peace,

Denis

‘Gnomeo and Juliet’ and What I’ve Given Up For Lent

Last Saturday I took my two granddaughters to see “Gnomeo and Juliet” an animated re-telling of the Shakespeare classic (Shakespeare’s lead was named Romeo, but you get the idea). Anyway it’s a cute movie about star-crossed lovers that are actually garden gnomes featuring Elton John music. I enjoyed it as much as the girls plus there was a bit of a morality tale included – which is never a bad idea, especially in a kid’s movie.

What does this have to do with Lenten sacrifice? Let me explain. At the end of the movie Anna (the almost three-year old) asked, “Pawpaw, can we clap now?” My response, “Of course we can!” So the three of us sat there, while watching the closing credits, clapping and cheering. I must admit that we received some stares and some looks of bemusement by our fellow theater goers but I didn’t care because my girls were so delighted.

And there you have it. I’ve decided to ‘give up’ public decorum for Lent. If I feel like clapping and cheering for a movie that my granddaughters LOVED – I will. I am ‘giving up’ my social embarrassment or my need for conformity. Now some of you, that know me, are probably wondering when exactly have I ever held back or been worried about peer pressure or social norms? But the truth is that too often I have let courtesy or political correctness dictate my actions. I have sacrificed compassion for good manners. I have failed to offer or accept forgiveness because of embarrassment or awkwardness. And I have denied Christ publicly by not always behaving in a Christian manner.

But I have some great examples of how to live my faith life. My son-in-law Travis ALWAYS says grace before meals – even in restaurants – even in fast food joints! He has made me feel comfortable with doing likewise. When we begin by making the ‘Sign of the Cross’ sometimes heads turn but it reminds me how grateful I am to have such a faith-filled son-in-law who is setting an amazing example for my grandkids. My co-workers Kim, Rosemary, Sherry, and Michael ALWAYS bring Christ into our workplace. Their quiet example of love and devotion to God is model for all Christians. And I am honored to be in their presence. My wife, Deb is ALWAYS showing me how to live a Christ-like life. She will drop whatever she’s doing to help a friend or a stranger. She will hold your hand and cry with you or share a belly-laugh; if that’s what you need. And she’s never afraid to show public outrage at injustice or public displays of affection regardless of who may be watching. She loves completely – I wish that I had her compassion.

So this Lenten season I will be pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I will pray in public and try to love more openly and praise God in my word and in my deed. I may even hug some people (so beware).

And of course Anna, “We can clap now!”

Peace,

Denis