Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ugh. It's Lent.

Here's the reading from the Book of Joel that is in the Liturgy of the Word for Mass on Ash Wednesday:

Blow the trumpet in Zion!
proclaim a fast,
call an assembly;
Gather the people,
notify the congregation;
Assemble the elders,
gather the children
and the infants at the breast;
Let the bridegroom quit his room
and the bride her chamber.
Between the porch and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep,
And say, “Spare, O LORD, your people,
and make not your heritage a reproach,
with the nations ruling over them!
Why should they say among the peoples,
‘Where is their God?’”

Then the LORD was stirred to concern for his land
and took pity on his people.

I am a choleric sanguine temperament. And the sanguine part of me just hates Lent. I know I need it. And I know it is a holy time. And I know that the celebration of the Resurrection would be gutted without these forty days of reflection on our sin and the atoning death of Christ. But as a sanguine, the idea of forty seven days of somberness is very hard. And then I am an extrovert, so I get my energy from people. Which means I tend to fall asleep in solitude. So, the very idea of Ash Wednesday fills me with waves of exhaustion. I'm tired already and it has only been Lent for nine hours and fifty seven minutes. "Can't I just go somewhere on the planet where it isn't Lent and sleep for forty seven days?" But my choleric side is all about taking life seriously, so, as much as I dread the dreary season, I embrace it.

I grew up in a family in which my mother used to say, "If you like Lent, you're doing it wrong." We had a whole list of "family penances" that still hover in my consciousness and which I can't evade without guilt even now - no sweets, no alcohol, no having people over for dinner, no anything at all that could be regarded as frivolously enjoyable. There was a sense in our house that anything really fun would be inappropriate during Lent. And then, we had to come up with our own individual penances that had to be approved by the parental units as really nailing whatever it was that God (as mediated by them in persona dei) wanted us to work on.

I'm glad I grew up in such a family. Lent gave a seriousness and purpose to the year. And it made the celebration of all the feasts outside of Lent much more joyous.

And another result of the "Lent is a serious season" in our house was that we all grew up with a special love of St. Joseph. His solemnity, falling on March 19th, invariably interrupted the dismalness of Lent. He was just too great a saint for the family not to step outside of the Lenten misery to have a celebration. I have always loved him for this, he was light and resurrection in many a dark, cold winter of penance.

I always have an intention for someone else for Lent. I find it keeps me much more resolute in keeping my penances, such as they are, and actually gives them a little boost out of their innate patheticness as dumb things that are still annoying sacrifices for me in my spoiled, spiritually lukewarm state. It's a weird dynamic, but if it is just about me, I tend to let myself off the hook easier. But when I know I promised the merits of the sacrifices for someone who is in need, I really seem to be able to summon the energy to talk myself out of talking myself out of not taking it all so seriously. This year, I'm offering Lent for my sister Alison who is expecting her second child in March, and also Dawn Eden, who has some disease that brings together cancer and the thyroid. I don't get the Divine Economy which sends Dawn cancer at this moment in which she has a vital message for our culture. So, I'm doing my part to dissent. Oh, and also sending up sacrifices for the conversion and holiness of Hollywood. You know, that old thing.

As much as I find the tone of Lent temperamentally exhausting, I have grown into welcoming the practice of fasting and almsgiving during the season. Here's what these two aren't: "Here Jesus, here's some more junk."

That is, a fast, is not giving up things creepy and shameful in our lives. We should do that any way. A fast isn't going on a diet or quitting smoking. A real fast is abstaining from something good that is an enjoyable part of human life. And then almsgiving is doing some extra good that builds the Church. As a spiritual director said to me years ago, "The only renunciation that makes any sense, is that which takes the form of a reaching out."

Thinking about that today as I mull over keepable serious penances.

God bless you all -

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