Lent is upon us. It marks a full year that I have been in the Catholic faith. Of course, my actual conversion didn't happen until Easter, but Lent was the real official begining. Given this anniversary and the significance of the time, I thought it appropriate and relevant to reflect on from where I've come, where I am, and where I am going.
Lent is a time of sacrifice and service. Often people sacrifice their favorite foods or activities in remembrance of the sacrifice that was made for them by Christ and the Holy Father. The usual suspects are chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, and red meat (although all Fridays during Lent are meatless, so this is almost like cheating). The sacrifices are almost always food-based. All to often the element of service is forgotten. The idea of service is to make yourself useful to the Church in some way more than you do on a daily basis. Some go out and feed the homeless every week while others volunteer to clean the church after masses. Even prayer is considered service. The whole point is to improve the condition of your soul and prepare it for the sacrifice made for its salvation. This year, I've decided to do both sacrifice and service. While my sacrifices seem trivial, in reality, all sacrifices pale in comparision to the sacrifice made for me.
My Sacrifices: This year, I am giving up the following things for Lent: popcorn (in ALL varieties ... movie and homemade), chocolate, and shopping. While these seem silly, there isn't a day in my life that I haven't enjoyed one if not all three of these activities. If you haven't heard, I make THE best popcorn ever. I learned from my mom and even she likes mine better. I LOVE popcorn. I eat it at least three times a week, usually with Jo (who is not at all happy about this sacrifice!) but sometimes alone. It's not necessarily bad for me (if you don't count the butter and salt that I layer on it), but it is something that I often crave and enjoy. When something means that much to a person, it makes a perfect sacrifice. I have the same problem with chocolate. Dark and white are deadly for me. I simply cannot say "no" when faced with them. So I figure that this small sacrifice will remind me everyday for the next forty days that Christ has made the ultimate sacrifice for me. I've also decided to give up shopping. Again, for those who know me, this is a HUGE deal. I shop for therapy. It makes me happy when I'm miserable, and, as embarassing as it is to admit, I like STUFF. I try not to be materialistic, but I like stuff. I like to bring home packages and unwrap them and look at my new things. I know that this will be increasingly difficult, especially since I am traveling to visit people this spring, so I have given myself a few exceptions. One: when the pair of navy pumps at AT goes on sale, I am allowed to buy them because I have been waiting for this pair of pumps to go on sale for two months. I have no navy pumps to wear with my navy suit. Two: When I travel to Texas, I am allowed to spend $150 on personal momentos of my trip to visit Kiki, Rob, Saw, and Tex. No more! Three: The only things that I can shop for are necessities -- groceries, household goods, Bailey things ... Four: Each week, I will place the money I have normally spent on me into the church's coffer for donation. This leads me to my service.
My Service: This Lent, I plan to give much more to the church. Right now, my time is thin. I've got two jobs, the diss, as well as grading and everything else. While I would love to contribute more of my talent to the church, I know that at this time that is impossible. I've decided that, while I cannot give my talent, I can give my treasure. I'm increasing my weekly donation and including money that would normally be spent on frivolous things. I'm also going to pray the Rosary every day. This will give me time to pray for all those in need of intercession and help. It will also allow me time to really focus my faith and center on Christ. On a secondary note, I think I will be blogging every day about faith and Lent. This will give me the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences as well as opening up dialogue with others. Not that I want to preach, but I think faith discussions are important.
All that being said, the last year has been one of adventure and discovery. My journey through faith has led me to realize some things about myself that I hadn't realized were there.
1.) I feel comfort in God's presence every day. I lacked that feeling before, but, ironically, I didn't miss it. I had never felt His presence before, so I didn't recognize the void. Now that I feel His outstretched hand every day, I cannot imagine struggling through this miserable world alone.
2.) Related to #1, I no longer see the world as dark and bleak. It really isn't all that miserable after all. I see so much good and beauty in all that surrounds me, and I can recognize my ability to impact that beauty in small ways.
3.) I am so much more aware of the blessings that shower down on me every day. I used to recognize the big windfalls, but now I see how important the small ones are as well. Sure, the new job at E.U is fabulous and is a huge blessing. But I'm blessed with people I love, friends I adore, and just happy moments each and every day. Sure, the big ones are great. But it's the small, ordinary stuff that really gets us through.
4.) I am no longer so afraid of the dark times. I know that sadness will happen and tragedy will strike. That's just how it is. It's called LIFE. But I know that I am capable of handling it because I have faith. I believe that God's got my back. He won't throw anything at me that He doesn't think I can handle. Even if I don't think I can, knowing that God believes in me makes me stronger and more determined.
5.) The mass is the high point of my week. I NEVER thought I would be saying that church was the best part of my week, but it really is. That one+ hour in church gives me quiet solitude to reflect on my life and my faith and bask in the glory of Christ's presence. Of course, with that comes the remorse that I am unworthy of the sacrifice made for me. But I eagerly accept those conflicting feelings -- especially the remorse -- because it urges me to be better and more deserving of such a gift. Mass really is my quiet time with the Lord, reading His words and singing His praises. The time I spend kneeling before God is the most productive time I have all week.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. I'm attending the 7am mass to receive my ashes. I think that this is one of the most important parts of Lent. Too often we are able to hide or conceal our faith. We don't really pay attention to it every day, and few people can see it on us. After all, faith is an internal marking. Well, receiving the ashes on Ash Wednesday makes my faith visible to all who I encounter and marks me as repentant and remorseful for the sinful condition of my soul. I know that it's always awkward walking around with a "dirt" smudge on your forehead, but it is a testament to the trueness and ardor of your faith.
Of course, tomorrow is a fast day, so my rumbly tumbly will be a testament to my faith as well.
Until tomorrow ...