The Forty Day Journey Begins. Ash Wednesday.

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​Giving up something is hard to choose, and giving up something for Lent can be a daunting task. Sometimes what I choose feels arbitrary and superficial. Some are good ideas, but not meaningful enough. Will giving it up bring me closer to G-d? Or just make me miserable for forty days? My feeling on giving something up is that it should be sacrificial – you should definitely notice that it’s absent. I won’t be giving up brussel sprouts or beets. I don’t eat them anyway. That would lack sincerity and significance. However, it should also not be something that is impossible to give up like driving or any number of things that you find indispensible.

I asked for help from my friends on Facebook, and I received some very good suggestions. In spite of their excellent responses, some of those very valid suggestions don’t (or won’t) work for me:

  • TV? Then I’d miss family time. We watch most things all together and enjoy that time. I’d be abandoning them for forty days.
  • Cable news? I don’t watch it 24/7 anymore, but I do need to keep informed, especially in this era of misinformation.
  • Internet? Besides keeping in touch with my family, it is essentially my livelihood.
  • Chocolate? Soda? Bread? Been there, done that. I’m not sure it holds the same meaning as the first time; at least not yet.
  • Caffeine? And go through withdrawal? Too physically taxing.
  • Ice cream? Maybe. My doctor would certainly like that.
  • Bacon? Hmm. Possible. Very possible.

I do always add a spiritual component to my forty days in the desert:

  • Prayer time.
  • Reflection.
  • Rosary.
  • Reading.

I already read two devotional books throughout the year on a daily basis: Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2019 by The Irish Jesuits and A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His journals. I’ll be adding two more: My parish gives out a small book, Not by Bread Alone 2019: Daily Reflections for Lent by Mary DeTurris Poust. This takes about five minutes to read each day and provides a reflection and a suggested meditation to reflect on. We’ve used this book for a number of years and it really is a good way to meet G-d everyday. The second book is Lenten Gospel Reflections by Bishop Robert Barron, which was given to my by the person who will be sponsoring me on my Cursillo journey (more on that in a later post). This one looks to be short readings also and it has space for notes or journaling.

Daily Lenten Reading, 2019. (c)2019


i’ve also decided to set aside $1 every time my family eats out or buys a non-grocery food item like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, etc and on Easter money donate all those dollars to my parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society.
I’m currently getting ready to attend Ash Wednesday Mass followed by a parish soup lunch. It is a really lovely way to begin Lent with other like-minded people, all on different paths but the same journey. It reinforces the community of the church.

 In addition to my own commitments during Lent, Lent has three pillars of prayer, fasting (and abstinence), and almsgiving. Fasting and abstinence sound similar, but are very different in practice, and for me, Catholic fasting is much different than my decades of Yom Kippur fasting (which I still observe). Fasting during Lent is only required of those 18 through 59, and may include one regular meal as well as two smaller meals. Fast days in Lent are today, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Additionally, Fridays in Lent require abstinence from meat as well as other enjoyable sources, freeing us to grow closer to G-d.

My church also included a forty day calendar offering suggestions on ways to make Lent moe meaningful. It is provided from Take Five for Faith and I sill share it with you this weekend.

I will keep you updated on my progress and I hope you will comment with your own reflections and suggestions this Lenten season.

Lenten Fasting

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There are three major things that we are repetitively reminded are a main focus of Lent: fasting, prayer, almsgiving. I don’t believe they are sacraments, but instead are traditions followed. Please correct me if I’m wrong. In my writings, I’ve often replaced fasting with penance. Both are important and often fasting leads to both prayer and penance at various times during our Lenten journeys.

Fasting.

When I was first going through the RCIA program, I was taught about Lent and the fasting that takes place on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday in addition to abstinence from meat on Fridays. I had grown up with many changes in my friends Catholic lives- no meat at all, no meat on Friday, etc. Growing up Jewish, I thought that I knew all about fasting. We fast one day out of the. year, the Day of Atonement; Yom Kippur.

It’s very simple. After age 13, barring any medical reason, you fast. No food or drink for about twenty-four hours, from sunset to sunset. Traditionally, the fast is broken with breakfast food, but I would often make a roast beef with potatoes and challah bread, very similar to what my mother in law makes at Christmas.

Lenten fast is a little bit different. And not quite as simple.

From 7 years old until the age of 59, we are expected to fast. In this case, fasting means one normal size meal with two smaller meals and no in between meal snacks. You may drink water as far as I know. The fast days are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On the Fridays of Lent, we are expected to abstain from meat. For our family, who have only two fish eaters and no cookers in the house, that usually means cheese pizza. Our church does a fish fry, which we try to attend at least once. Other good fish options in our area are Wendy’s Cod Sandwich (which is the best fast food fish sandwich I’ve tried) and Cracker Barrel who have a Fish fry every Friday even when it’s not Lent. Red Robin’s fish sandwich or plate are also good alternative options. We also have a local pizza place that has a fish fry during Lent.

So many rules for one simple thing – don’t eat.

I tend to follow the rules of Yom Kippur for the most part during the Lenten fast days although I do eat dinner as my solitary meal.

On both fast days, my church has either Mass or a prayer service so much of my day is taken up with prayer. Ash Wednesday has three options for receiving ashes. Good Friday has a prayer service, Stations of the Cross in the afternoon and then the Lord’s Passion in the evening.
I spend the rest of the day reading from my missal and The Little Black Book that I’ve mentioned before.I think. I meditate. I write.

As many of you have already seen, my writing is a part of each facet of my life, including, and especially, my spiritual life.

Fasting is one aspect of moving closer to G-d during this contemplative season.


Tomorrow: Prayer

Day 1 of Lent – What to Give Up

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Ash Wednesday is here. It feels much earlier than usual, although I guess it feels that way every year. I’ve been contemplating what to give up this year, and it’s a real struggle. I feel sometimes that my choices are too easy, but while it shouldn’t be impossible, it should be a little difficult. I should be able to notice that something is missing and then give pause on why I chose to eliminate that from my life for the next forty days.

I thought bacon. But I don’t really eat that much bacon. Mostly on cheeseburgers when we go out to eat. We almost never buy bacon on its own for our house, although I have had cravings for BLTs in the past. Maybe we should give up eating out for Lent.

I thought Netflix. Well, at least the rerun parts of Netflix. The repeated binge watching of television series over and over and over again. The TV is constantly on in our house (less now but it’s still an issue; my habit). Netflix has taken the place of constant cable news that I gave up after the last election (2012). The problem with giving this up is that Supernatural reruns are my go-to white noise. I can do almost anything else while Supernatural is on, especially the early seasons. It’s a comfort thing. Supernatural was there when my depression returned and I needed another med adjustment. Supernatural kept me from being listless and lethargic.

There’s always the internet, Facebook and/or Kindle. I know several people who give up either the internet or Facebook for Lent. This doesn’t make sense for me since that is my family and primary school communication, I do most of my writing online in the clouds and on my kindle, so it’s much more than a crutch. For some of my family, this is the only place they get to see pictures of my kids, and I theirs. Used well, Facebook is a G-dsend.

Ice Cream? Uh, I don’t know.

Chocolate? Been there, done that.

Diet Coke? Ditto.

McDonald’s Breakfast Burritos? But I love them! I would eat them every day if I could.

Starbucks? That goes so close with my writing that I’m not sure that I could do without it for forty days. Maybe…

These are all things on my maybe list. I’ve given up some of them before. Some were harder than others; much harder.

On Monday morning, I began to read The Little Black Book. I’ve enjoyed these “Little” books seasonally, both in paper format and e-book. On Monday, it talked about fasting and abstinence (which is much different from the Yom Kippur fasting that I was used to.) One of the things mentioned was that “the church no longer attempts to prescribe Lenten practices in detail” and “choosing practices that are adapted to one’s own circumstances.” This implied to me that I was not expected to give something up if it didn’t fit with my other “penitential season” practices.

I’m not sure my priest would agree, and after the initial burst of wishful thinking, I went back to the list in my mind. It also felt a little like when I was a kid and didn’t want to stop writing on the High Holy Days because they weren’t really work. For me it wasn’t something to meditate on the meaning of; it was a cop-out. Again, that’s for my personal feelings and perspective. We all need to come to our own place this Lenten season.

Choosing an item isn’t just about the item itself; it’s about the introspection, the prayerful thoughts that go into the choosing, what makes this item important enough to make the giving up a sacrifice?

Not only that, but how is the giving up part of the larger idea of what Lent is all about – the penance and the getting ourselves ready for Christ’s sacrifice for us? Certainly, whatever we give up doesn’t compare to His sacrifice for us. It is but a small imitation, but it’s all we can offer.

So how do we continue to give.our Lenten experiences meaning year after year?

I could give up brussel sprouts. I don’t hate them, but we almost never eat them. Does that count?

The truth is, the only one who can tell me if it counts is me. Trying to get out of it doesn’t hurt anyone or change the meaning for anyone but me. Who am I observing Lent for in the first place?

The responsibility is on me because the benefit, whatever that might be spiritually is also on me.

I’ve decided to give up the breakfast burritos and ice cream. Tuesday morning was my last burrito until after Easter and Tuesday night was my last bowl of ice cream (black cherry chocolate chunk). Something from the morning and something from the night to remind me each day right after I wake up and right before I go to bed that these forty days are different.

How else will I make them different? And how will they change me for the rest of the year?

Time will tell.
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Reflection – Ash Wednesday

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As I find myself observing my first Ash Wednesday since my baptism into the Catholic faith (I observed two before today), I am hesitant to choose that one something to give up. There are truly so many things available to me, not necessarily bad habits that need eliminating or rectifying or sins that need reconciling, but between candy and dessert, soda and McDonald’s Breakfast Burritos, television and internet, the present list goes on like a persistent gnaw at my subconscious, and I’m not sure where my Lenten (or should I say life -) priorities should lie.

In addition to giving something up, what do I add to my day to encourage me in my spiritual contemplation, the new awakening to my continuing faith journey? In the past, I’ve committed to a daily reflection. Unfortunately this has lasted about two days. Maybe I’ve taken on too much, been overly ambitious, trying to publish a missive rather than a thought.

Should I pray more?

Should I give myself some extra alone time in the morning to reflect and ruminate? Perhaps use as a model the Daily Examen of St. Ignatius?

Everything I’ve mentioned and thought about for this Lent looks good and interests me, but so far none feel right; none feel faithful.

None fit.

They all feel forced, a put-uponing rather than a release, a lethargy of excuses rather than an arousing of spirit or a growth to carry me through these next forty days.

I am at odds with myself and it all feels muddled; a disarray of good intentions amid the clutter of listlessness, torn between excessive piousness and not enough, walking the fine line of knowing who this Lent is for – my outer self or my inner soul.

As I spend the rest of today in G-d’s grace, I’m hoping He will show me which direction to take at this Ash Wednesday crossroads.

Lenten Quotations

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Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy

.– Pope Francis

You can do more than pray after you have prayed; but you can never do more than pray until you have prayed.

— A.J. Gordon

Remember that lent and ash Wednesday is not just about putting away the bad things. It is about creating good things and helping the poor and the needy, being kind to people and much more.

— Jacob Winters

It is not just about giving up our favorite food but its about going further and giving up things like hatred and unforgiveness. You need to clean your heart and prepare yourself for purity.

— Amanda Jobs

For 36 more quotes about Lent, and for the source of these for, go here.

Ash Wednesday

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This is my first post since beginning Lent.

This morning I realized that this is my first rite since deciding to become Catholic. I’ve been going to Mass, but I’ve never participated in any sacraments. And I’m actually not allowed to because I’m not baptized. However, I was told receiving ashes is not a sacrament.

But it is a rite.

And in realizing that it is my first one, this is actually a big deal for me.

It stops being ‘hanging out in church three days a week, sometimes four’, and solidifies my commitment to Christ. It is almost (or really past) time to start telling my family about my decision. Except for who is reading this, I’ve only told my best friend, my priest, my therapist and my husband (in that order). My family is not very religious, but I still worry about their reaction. Part of it is not only a step forward in my faith, but also in my continuing journey. Asserting myself positively as I become more myself. Asking my family to accept me as I grow and change.

As part of that first step, I was nervous walking into the gathering space. There was no room for deep breaths. The door opens and there are people waiting for you, and then I start to have a little panic thing going on. I don’t know what to do.

The Father greeted me with hello, and I respond with a good morning, and then go on to receive my ashes. I don’t know what the woman said to me. She smiled, reached her thumb out to my forehead, and said something. I think I thanked her, although I’m not sure if you’re supposed to do that. At least, no one laughed at me.

Once she touched my forehead, though, I no longer felt weird.

I belonged.

I was in the right place, doing the right thing, and I could feel it.

Mass went as usual, but it felt big.

Important.

Some days the Mass does feel that way. You can feel, literally feel the Spirit upon you and those days feel Big.

Today was one of those days.

There’s music, but it’s somber.

There are no Alleluias. Father told us yesterday that those were the last ones until after Lent.

The Deacon is back from his holiday.

All of the vestments are purple. Having a young daughter, I always think of purple as a happy color, but adorning the church and the Christ on His Cross, it is dark and muted and thoughtful, and not at all happy.

There’s penitence, and apologies, but certain words evoke certain images, and every time for me, when I hear penitent, I hear Sean Connery’s voice, and then Harrison Ford:

“A penitent man. Kneels before G-d!”

And then the Father uses the phrase, ‘a Lenten Pilgrimage’ and I smile broadly. That is what I called it yesterday in this very space, and I know that I am traveling in a new direction. I have everything I need, and I am ready.

I bow my head to receive the prayer.

And thus begins my first Lent.