Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Lenten Penance: Just Another New Year's Resolution?

The travel route to my Tuesday morning men’s mass and breakfast meeting has me driving, at one point, past my parish church.  In the early morning darkness, I come to a full stop on the nearby road and look in at the light coming from the chapel, to stare at the large monstrance visible from the road --- and Jesus in the Eucharist looking back at me.  Each Tuesday I turn off the car radio and say a short prayer there, and then continue on my way.  But yesterday morning, as I continued on my way, a thought came to me:  In the quiet of the car, MANY thoughts were coming to me, thoughts on me and God, and our relationship.  And I liked those thoughts.  It was so easy to talk to Him then, in the quiet. 
And so it came to me that this should be my first Lenten penance:  Starting Ash Wednesday next week, when I drive around in my car, I will have the radio turned off.  In that time when I am away from all the things and people which focus my attention each day, I will use the quiet in the car to focus on God --- and be attentive if He wishes to focus on me.  At worst, if the time seems sterile and no conversation starts between us, I’ll initiate one, perhaps by meditating on the Divine Mercy chaplet --- and if you don’t know that one, you should.  If there ever was a prayer conversation starter, that chaplet is one.
And talking with God is a good thing, for me, and for Him.  And that led me to a further thought on my newest Lenten penance:  Is it a penance?
I am like everyone else when it comes New Year’s Eve:  I make some resolutions.  And my resolve often lasts through January 2nd!  I can never really understand WHY I can’t hold to my resolutions; they are all so good for me: Lose weight, exercise, pray more, be nicer to my neighbor, get to confession more, etc, etc, etc.  They are, I’m sure, a lot like your resolutions:  you make them because they are good for you, either physically or spiritually.  And, I don’t know, but perhaps we break them because we really don’t care that much about our physical or spiritual health.  Or maybe we’re all just wimps and can’t keep a promise, ESPECIALLY one to ourselves. 
But then along comes Lent, and we can now renew those resolutions!
For Lent, in the past, I’ve often given up coffee and/or red meat and/or alcohol and/or sweets.  And these resolutions resembled a lot my failed New Year’s Resolutions.  In giving up these things for Lent, I always thought I was making a sacrifice by giving them up, but my thoughts yesterday morning made me question if that was true. 
I could say it is a sacrifice for me to give up some money to buy food --- I mean, I’d like to keep my money, so giving it up is a sacrifice, right?  Not really.  If I do something and get something in return, that is called a trade.  I’ve sacrificed nothing, and if I were truly honest, my New Year’s Resolutions aren’t even fair trades, because I think I am getting something VERY good if I “sacrifice” something not as good.  No, those types of resolutions or “penances” are not sacrifices at all.  Meatless Fridays, as dictated by the Church during Lent, are reminders of the types of sacrifices we should be making during Lent --- sacrifices where we give up something (even, perhaps, time) but get nothing tangible in return.  “Our reward will be in heaven,” as they say.
So my prior year’s Lenten sacrifices, looked at that way, were merely more New Year’s Resolutions, not real sacrifices, or self-penances.  But the new one I propose, being quiet in the car while driving, is not a trade of any sort.  I like the music or talk on the radio while I am driving.  Giving that up IS a sacrifice, for which I get no material returns --- only the possibility of spiritual ones, and so I thought some more on that concept today.  I may still give up some of those things which would be good for me to give up, such as coffee or the glass of wine at night, but those are things I really enjoy, and I suspect any health benefits will not be nearly as great as my discomfort with not enjoying them.  Those Lenten sacrifices WILL be sacrifices, deliberate sufferings on my part to help me think on and unite myself to Christ’s sufferings.  They are things which, I pray, will help me grow in holiness.
It is God’s will that we grow in holiness: that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.  (1Thes 4:4)
I’ve got a week before Lent starts, so I’m sure I’ll be thinking more on this topic, of the things which I very much enjoy which I could sacrifice with no benefit to myself, real Lenten penances.  My reading of 15 or 16 novels each month as I sit caring for mom comes readily to mind, but I’m not sure I would be able to totally live up to such a sacrifice --- an increase in other papers or magazines or internet blog reading might creep in as substitutes, negating the worth of my sacrifice (I think that’s called cheating).  I could up my spiritual readings, but then I’m not sure I would get as much out of spiritual books, since time with mom is often time with many disruptions --- not exactly prime time for meditating on spiritual thoughts. 
Oh well, as I said, I’ve got a week to think on it.
Are you thinking on possible Lenten penances?  Remember: no pain, no gain.
Do not fear, only believe.  (Mk 5:36)       

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