Time to Reflect

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Ash Wednesday has arrived. It feels so early this year, but I suppose everything feels a bit jumbled during this pandemic year. As my priest said at mass this morning, things are different, but they’re also the same. Less people allowed at mass. Ashes distributed with a cotton swab (my parish) or sprinkled over your head (others). I didn’t make this morning’s mass in person although I planned to, and registered to attend. The ice on my car made different plans. I was able to watch the mass livestreamed and stopped by the church later in the afternoon to pick up a small vial of ashes. It was a do it yourself for me today.

I would have thought a year into the pandemic that I’d be an expert on reflections on any subject that came to mind, but when I went to write this on Tuesday, there was nothing. Sometimes reflections feel like journal entries, and I’ve been not great at journaling this past year. I’ve tried to keep checklists – masses attended, rosaries said, writing accomplished, but even that little bit has been a failing.

I hadn’t even decided what I’d be giving up, and then I gave myself an extension. Not anything canonical, but I think sometimes when we force ourselves to do things without the impetus of why we’re doing them, they lose something in the translation.

I spend a lot of time worrying about what I’m going to give up as if forty days without chocolate or soda is a hardship in the big picture of things, but on the other hand, I think that sacrifice should also be a sacrifice of time. What can I do to grow in my relationship with G-d? What are things that I can do for these forty days that will stay with me for the next forty? And then the next?

To begin for the readers waiting with bated breath, I’m not going to make my decision on what I”ll be offering to G-d for Lent until the first Sunday of Lent although I have a good idea what it will be and it wasn’t even on my original brainstorm list. By Sunday, I will have had some time to discern what I can accomplish from giving something up or trading it for something that is more positive and/or spiritual.

Lent is a forty day period where prayer, fasting, and almsgiving take the center of spiritual life. Despite being given dispensation from holy days and Sunday masses during the pandemic, I have still gone almost every week to the livestream mass. I was happily surprised to find it just as rewarding as going in person. In the summer, I began to attend Monday’s daily mass in person and I will continue to do that. Our church has done a great job of keeping things safe. I am very lucky with both my church and my children’s school.

In addition to the three pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving since I’ve become a Cursillista, I try to incorporate the tripod of piety, study, and action into my everyday life, but moreso during Lent when our time is spent in communion with Jesus, and of course, ourselves.

I have some tools and links that I’d like to share with you to assist with your own Lenten journey. The first three I will be doing throughout Lent.

Daily Reflections for Lent: Not By Bread Alone 2021 by Mary DeTurris Poust

A Stranger and You Welcomed Me from Clear Faith Publishing

Along the Way: A Jesuit Prayer Pod – a weekly Lenten podcast from two Jesuit brothers

The Examen with Father James Martin, SJ – daily podcast with Fr. Jim Martin, SJ

Prayer of Spiritual Communion (this is what my parish uses for communion during their livestream masses for those of us participating at home):

I wish, my Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility, and devotion with which your most holy Mother received you, with the spirit and fervor of the saints. Amen

In addition to some of these, I am also going to praying the Rosary on Mondays and the Stations of the Cross on Fridays as well as committing to submit a reflection to my Cursillo group’s weekly digest. I will also (finally) begin reading A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith by Timothy Egan. This was recommended a couple of years ago and I bought it then, but haven’t found the right time to start it. I’ve decided to make that time now.

I also intend to recommit to my writing, both spiritual and secular. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve kept consistent with this website, but my other writings have fallen on the wayside. I hope to rectify that over the next forty days.

I hope to bring you more in the coming days. Have a meaningful Lent.

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.

Sundays in Lent – 4th Sunday – Laetare Sunday

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“But Lent is not a self-improvement program, nor is it a self-denial challenge, with badges to be earned for each day or week I manage not to eat chocolate. Lent is a time for us to be open to G-d’s refashioning of us.”

From Daily Reflections for Lent: Not by Bread Alone 2018 by Michelle Francl-Donnay

Typically I try to write my weekly reflection based on the Scripture readings for today, and I usually wait until after I’ve finished posting to read Michelle Francl’s reflections that I read daily. I don’t want to use someone else’s words as the basis for my feelings. Sometimes it’s inevitable because Lent is so universal sometimes the feelings and emotions brought up within each of us are also universal, and so we can’t help that sometimes we sound repetitive of someone else’s feelings and emotions. However, when I read these two sentences, it hit me so hard as much of her writing does, how she reaches into my mind and pulls out my thoughts. I’ve found someone whose voice I can recognize and understand.

My husband is not a practicing Catholic, and my children are “officially” Jewish even though we have always celebrated both religion’s holidays. I have been more religious than anyone else in my family for as long as I can remember. I grew up, not so much in a temple but in a shul where I learned the holidays, the songs, the traditions of being Jewish, and that is what I’ve followed with my own kind of care. Since becoming Catholic, I’ve become more religious, but it is a personal journey. Sometimes I involve my family, but often it is individual for me. For much of it, they simply don’t understand, and for the most part, that’s okay. When things come up, questions, I do my best.

Lent is hard.

Not the sacrifice or the willpower, but the simple answers of why are not so simple. Does G-d really care if you fast? I don’t think so. Like any other religious experience, it is individual, and it is between me and G-d, but ultimately it is up to me to do the thing and find the answers to the thing.

I gave up bread, so when I have a tortilla I’m asked why I’m eating bread (I really despise gatekeepers). Tortillas are bread nutritionally, but not bread for the purposes of eating bread. I won’t go into what is and isn’t bread, but I’m the one that gave it up and as long as I’m not parsing the definition, I know what I gave up and what I didn’t.

I don’t need a pat on the back when I don’t eat bread and I don’t need a hug when I do. I might include it in reconciliation or I might not.

Sometimes I do think that Lent is a self-improvement program. I can be a better person is I can take control of things. This is a good time to start. That would be great if this were New Year’s or the first day of spring. I have to continuously remind myself that the point of Lent is to grow closer to G-d. To eliminate what is standing between G-d and myself. If I give up bread and lost ten pounds (or thirty like the last time), that is not the focus. It’s a pleasant side effect, but how is not eating bread bringing me closer to G-d. Would giving up chocolate bring me any closer? Or soda? How are these things keeping me from G-d? Are they merely distracting me from Him?

I don’t know all the answers. I can only keep asking them, and hoping that through some discernment and prayer that I will receive those answers, or at least part of them like a puzzle piece to be placed and examined.

It is not self-improvement or self-denial, but for me, it is both and it is neither. It is many things at once, and it is only getting through it to the other side that I can find what I was looking for or see what I was being shown all along for the first time, and then I have the entirety of the Easter season to look back on it and contemplate some more, possibly seeing some of the things I may have missed in the rush to get through the Lenten sacrifice.

[Today’s Readings: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23, Psalm 137, Ephesians 2:4-10, John3:14-21]

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