In this program we look at the art of giving — specifically, alms-giving this Lent. Together with my guests, Sherry Brownrigg and Lisa Hendey, we talk about the work of almsgiving this Lent through the mission of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and its Lenten apostolate called “Rice Bowl”. Both Brownrigg and Hendey recently toured CRS’s mission in Colombia’s coffee country and share their pilgrimage stories and their passion for Rice Bowl as a powerful means of almsgiving and personal transformation.
Been there. This is the truth.
This Lent, I’ve been working on a deeper sense of fasting. Of course, that’s supposed to be between me and the Lord, but I thought I’d share just a few things that I’m learning about myself and that perhaps these things will resonate with you. If not, just move along with your day, don’t let me be a distraction.
So that’s the first thing about fasting: Distraction. So many distractions that can try to pull us away.
Distractions make us want to give up.
If you are fasting on a fast day on bread and water, you suddenly see all the luscious fruit on the countertop from your last grocery shop and you secretly wonder if you don’t enjoy it now, it may go bad by tomorrow. Distraction! Or as you’re preparing the evening meal for others, you decide that maybe a glass of wine would be just what you need. Distraction!! These are the moments when fasting is really a test of your will. Identifying your distractions is helpful.
To decide to stay with your fast is the goal. So to defend your fast against distraction, it’s okay to put the fruit or the wine in another room on a fast day. It’s also okay to plan a recipe with the food you are fasting from today (or for the whole of Lent) that you will cook tomorrow (or on Easter). That way you can think about the gift that food truly is for you as you fast from it today. And you’ll enjoy a richer blessing of it tomorrow or in Eastertide.
Distraction and the temptation to end your fast prematurely will be less likely if you find the fast that works for you — that is, making fasting something truly sacrificial and something that lends to a conversation between you and the Lord, but one that is not negatively impacting those around you. Otherwise, every distraction will equal a fail in your mind, and you might consider skipping your fast all together. Talk to the Lord when you feel distracted and talk to your feet too… move away from the distraction!
The goal here is tame the will and not crush the spirit. And to let your fast be something that you can lift up for love of Jesus.
Here’s something I’ve learned about myself when I am fasting that may be a good example. In the last few weeks, I’m finding I’m less productive work-wise on a fast day. (This is a once a week bread and water fast that I’m doing). Translation: I’m a bit sleepier, slower, and finding that coffee really is my friend. I don’t want to be a grumpy faster or non-productive at work, especially when I have to lead a class or give a presentation. So what to do? If my bread and water fast days occur on a night when I have to teach, etc., I allow a little coffee into my schedule. I have to know myself, and I have to be considerate of those I interact with. I’m still working up to the full on bread and water fasts, but when I need to “on”, I choose to modify the fast. So my bread and water fast days may have additional coffee/tea breaks if needed, especially when I have to interact with others.
If moving my fast day is an option, I might do that, too. So, you might think I’m a slacker. I’m mean, why not just soldier on and keep that fast day as scheduled? Am I not holy enough to do that? Am I cheating or something?
This brings me to the second thing that fasting teaches me: The need to achieve is strong in this one.
Patience, Not Perfectionism.
Fasting is not about perfectionism. Perfectionism is — A DISTRACTION!!!!!!
Honestly… I’m also trying to let go of perfectionism. Perfectionism tells me I can do it all and it shows the world I can do it. My goal is to keep this between me and Jesus and not get all self righteous about my performance of this fast or task. Trust me, sometimes it takes more humility for me, and is a greater sacrifice, to change the day and to give up my control of things, than to keep the date I had scheduled. May the Lord be the Lord of my Day. Not me.
Finally, the third point about fasting and distraction… sometimes even delayed gratification is positive and moving you toward giving up full control, and that’s good too.
Delayed gratification is mortifying.
If you’re fasting from, say, television, suddenly it seems everyone you know is talking about the game you missed or the episode of such-and-such that you are now pining to see. The chatter from others, both in person or online, can be a real humbling of our need to part of the in-crowd among friends or colleagues.
(Fortunately, in the land of online streaming and DVR’s we are not really fasting from those things… we are merely post-poning our gratification… for eventually, we may indeed watch what we’ve missed and catch up.)
Certain moments like this remind me that even delayed gratification is worth doing. It is worth something not to live in an on-demand way, to accept rather humbly what comes our way, as if you are waiting for a surprise. You never know what God might send into the empty space of time you create for Him. It gives him the full access (dare I say the remote control access?) to our hearts, rather than us being in control.
Fasting is not a cruel Catholic joke. It’s meant to change us, to change what we depend on. Do I depend on myself or the Lord? If my fast does not have me seeking Jesus, then change it up. Yes, it’s okay to begin anew. To hit the restart button and select a fast that keeps you in closer contact with Christ.
So, for me, fasting is an exercise in giving up control… to say that its not my way or the highway, that I’m good with whatever the Lord is bringing my way today. He is the Lord of all Time, not me. He is Divine Providence, not me.
What does fasting build in me?
Gratitude and generosity, for starters.
I’m thankful for everything that Providence has supplied for me this Lent, and in many other ways.
That gratitude is allowing me to be more generous in giving alms and wanting to do more and give more and more over to Jesus. The more that I can hand myself over to Jesus, the more his Will will take root in me.
I want Jesus separate me from what I’m attached to, from what takes me away from him. And at the same time I humbly pray that I’m never separated from His Will.
#Fast Friday from last week.
#Fast Friday from two weeks ago: midlife, mid-Lent
Matthew Kelly on Fasting
Lent is not a punch card. It is not a ticket to heaven. It is not dues paying or making deposits in some holy account.
Lent, in the briefest way, means 40 Days. In the longer way it means this.
Productivity experts tell us that it takes more than 30 days to make something a habit. Some say 66.
Anyway, I think that’s the point of Lent for me in terms of my spiritual life. It’s making me look at my habits and asking me to add a few that will aid my faith and help me break the sinful habits. It’s like me staring at Jesus in the desert who is staring down temptation. It’s making me stronger. But only if Jesus is with me to give me courage. And the only way he is going to do that is if I’m faithful to the church which gives me the graces I need, since I’m not very courageous on my own.
Honestly, there are many days that I want my Lent to be a ticket that I punch. That way I don’t have to enter into it fully. It can become something that I check off my to-do list.
Sorry, Pat. It ain’t a to-do list.
It’s more like a to be list.
Honestly, I’m so much better at the doing thing.
This is much more than a Martha vs Mary struggle. I understand that message. And trust me, what I’m thinking about is way more than putting Christ above housework and people about things. I understand those priorities. It must now be Christ always. First always. Not first mostly… This is about how fast do I want to conform to Christ? How quick am I to obey for love of Him? How long will it take for his cruciform to appear in me?
This little meditation from the Magnificat stopped me cold yesterday morning. It is anti-ticket punch. It is antithesis of the gold star mentality of earning our way to heaven, or at least earning our way through Lent. It’s about full on entering into being the one Jesus is recreating us to be. To let Jesus be in me that I might become more like him, to imitate him with greater proficiency and more in line with his thinking, his ways.
And guess what? It positively will not happen without the Church and what the Church prescribes for me, not only this Lent, but always.
Sometimes we take up the attitude vis-à-vis the Church of someone who is looking for a certificate of good behavior. But the Church doesn’t supervise: she exists and we exist within her. She is the Body of Christ and we are members of the Body. Our dependence on her and our commitment to her, if they entail external acts or signs, are above all an internal and vital dependence and commitment. Our dependence on the body that she is, is considerable.
But our initiative, our responsibility, and our function are also considerable. We are designed as irreplaceable parts of the Church. Both our submissions and our initiatives are matters of obedience, as they would be for a body’s cells…
We don’t make good on obedience with a prayer said at Mass, with a devotion to a priest or to a movement. We don’t even make good on it with a faithful life of the sacraments, or with a fervent life of prayer, but rather by carrying our sacramental life and our prayer life wherever they must go, all the way to the end for which they were made.
– Servant of God Madeleine Delbrêl (from We, the Ordinary People of the Streets)
Wherever they must go, all the way to the end for which they were made. That is purpose of Lent. Because that is the purpose of faith… that we might be in a relationship with the One who called us to be.
But let me tell you, I repeat: I cannot be all that I am to be without the Body of Christ, the Church. I cannot make it without grace.
It is the Church that believes first, and so bears, nourishes and sustains my faith. Everywhere, it is the Church that first confesses the Lord: “Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you”, as we sing in the hymn “Te Deum”; with her and in her, we are won over and brought to confess: “I believe”, “We believe”. It is through the Church that we receive faith and new life in Christ by Baptism. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 168)
There is one tiny little prayer that priest offers at Mass before the Sign of Peace. Maybe you know it. It is a great consolation to me:
Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever. (Emphasis mine.)
I am always praying that in some way. Every day. Look not on the sins, but on the faith. My sins and the faith of the Church.
Thank you, Church.
Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins.
More on I-am-faithless-but-God-is-faithful.
For Ordering a Life Wisely
O merciful God, grant that I may desire ardently, search prudently, recognize truly, and bring to perfect completion whatever is pleasing to You for the praise and glory of Your name.
Put my life in good order, O my God.
Grant that I may know what You require me to do.Bestow upon me the power to accomplish Your will, as is necessary and fitting for the salvation of my soul.
Grant to me, O Lord my God, that I may not falter in times of prosperity or adversity, so that I may not be exalted in the former, nor dejected in the latter.
May I not rejoice in anything unless it leads me to You; may I not be saddened by anything unless it turns me from You.
May I desire to please no one, nor fear to displease anyone, but You.
May all transitory things, O Lord, be worthless to me and may all things eternal be ever cherished by me.
May any joy without You be burdensome for me and may I not desire anything else besides You.
May all work, O Lord, delight me when done for Your sake and may all repose not centered in You be ever wearisome for me.
Grant unto me, my God, that I may direct my heart to You and that in my failures I may ever feel remorse for my sins and never lose the resolve to change.
O Lord my God, make me submissive without protest, poor without discouragement, chaste without regret, patient without complaint, humble without posturing, cheerful without frivolity, mature without gloom, and quick-witted without flippancy.
O Lord my God, let me fear You without losing hope, be truthful without guile, do good works without presumption, rebuke my neighbor without haughtiness, and—without hypocrisy—strengthen him by word and example.
Give to me, O Lord God, a watchful heart, which no capricious thought can lure away from You.
Give to me a noble heart, which no unworthy desire can debase.
Give to me a resolute heart, which no evil intention can divert.
Give to me a stalwart heart, which no tribulation can overcome.
Give to me a temperate heart, which no violent passion can enslave.
Give to me, O Lord my God, understanding of You, diligence in seeking You, wisdom in finding You, discourse ever pleasing to You, perseverance in waiting for You, and confidence in finally embracing You.
Grant that with Your hardships I may be burdened in reparation here, that Your benefits I may use in gratitude upon the way, that in Your joys I may delight by glorifying You in the Kingdom of Heaven.
You Who live and reign, God, world without end.
[These and other prayers by St Thomas Aquinas can be found in the volume entitled, The Aquinas Prayer Book: The Prayers and Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas, available from Sophia Institute Press (1-800-888-9344).]
I’ve been at home a lot. There’s some much snow up here in New England, it’s keeping me indoors. Clutter within the four walls is starting to drive me crazy and slowly.
As part of my Lenten penances, and to grow in humility and diligence, I’m cleaning a lot of grime out of the corners. You know the kind. In the kitchen it’s the grimy places along the back edge of the stove where it meets the countertop and the wall. Or, there’s that infrequently seen part of the counter under the knife block. Just a few nights ago we moved the dog’s crate out of the corner where it usually stays put and swept up the sniggling little scraps that have fallen behind it the past year.
Last weekend, I actually took our furniture polish and cleaned up some wooden furniture needing attention. After first having to organize and dust all the shelves.
This coming week I’m staring down multiple stacks of books that I simply must categorize and place in the office or give away. Oh gosh, the office, that’s another zone crying for my attention.
I simply must manage the little piles whose girth keeps spreading.
There are many days that I lament that I do not have a cleaning service because I’m so lazy with the domestic arts. But our budget cannot afford it, so it falls to me. (Bob is a help when I ask… but he doesn’t complain much and somehow he doesn’t see the grimy build-up the way I do.)
Did you catch that previous admission? I’m l.a.z.y. Doing these little chores can become penitential for someone like me. Sure I tidy up a lot during the week…. but the deep cleaning… whoa, that’s a commitment. I can only overcome laziness and procrastination by growing more diligent. (Remember, my doing these thing without complaining and without any recognition is worth more value to my soul than talking about it in a blog post. So, you can see, I’ve still got some growing to do.)
It’s not lost on me that the penitential nature of Lent requires us to go after the grime in the corners of our souls. Those little piles of sins we’re been meaning to get to… but somehow, and I’m speaking to myself here, we’re simply willing to live with or ignore. Dat grimy gunk over dere ain’t botherin’ nobody, right?
Naturally, as a practicing Catholic, I know all the rules about venial and mortal sins. I’ve been at this long enough to try to really steer clear from the mortal ones…. but O Lordy watch me still trip over those venial ones…. especially the bad language. It’s a default code my tongue finds when I’m stressed, over-tired, or frustrated. And that’s for starters, and I already mentioned the laziness about chores…. but I don’t need to confess my sins to you here. Today I had to take off to confession and Mass, and, trust me, I was grateful to go.
Any of this familiar to you? I’m not here to nag you. Just reminding you that we’re all got stuff to confess and clean up. By all means, let’s all get to confession this Lent.
Release the grime. Make the commitment.
For comic relief: Life is messy. Clean it up.
This might help: Forgiveness is Waiting for You: 8 Tips for an Awesome Confession
Why #Fast Fridays?
After I wrote this, I found this great advice from Chris Stefanick… loved that he mentions the corners…
Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity of him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also to eye, the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice [greed]. Let the eyes fast by disciplining it not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from fowl and fishes, but bite and devour one another?
St John Chrysostom, 4th century
Taking a Lenten pause from the The F.U.N. Quotient that usually appears on Fridays here at the blog. Friday’s are not just the end of the work week… they are the day our Lord died for us.
We Catholics traditionally fast from meat on Fridays, and we may be fasting from other things as well. So I’ll keep this fast personally, yes, but I’ll also try to give you a fast post to read and to reflect on in your day. Each will vary in a theme drawn from my own fasts.
Let’s start off with the virtue that undergirds all virtues we seek: Humility.
Pray the Litany of Humility with a podcast from Discerning Hearts. (2 minutes)
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I,
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
(Text by Merry Cardinal del Val, secretary of state to Pope Saint Pius X
from the prayer book for Jesuits, 1963.)
“A saint is not someone who never sins,
but one who sins less and less frequently
and gets up more and more quickly.”
St Bernard of Clairvaux
Lent is a time of renewal for the whole Church, for each communities and every believer. Above all it is a “time of grace” (2 Cor6:2). God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us. “We love because he first has loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). He is not aloof from us. Each one of us has a place in his heart. He knows us by name, he cares for us and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him. He is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us. Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure… Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.
I would invite everyone to live this Lent as an opportunity for engaging in what Benedict XVI called a formation of the heart (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 31). A merciful heart does not mean a weak heart. Anyone who wishes to be merciful must have a strong and steadfast heart, closed to the tempter but open to God. A heart which lets itself be pierced by the Spirit so as to bring love along the roads that lead to our brothers and sisters. And, ultimately, a poor heart, one which realizes its own poverty and gives itself freely for others.
During this Lent, then, brothers and sisters, let us all ask the Lord: “Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum”: Make our hearts like yours (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.
Message for Lent