Monday, February 27, 2012

It's Lent, Are you tending the garden?

During Lent, something is happening that most garden-variety Catholics wouldn't even have on their radar-screen. A small budding seed that grew somewhere quietly is being fed, nurtured, and mentored right in their own backyard. As with most Catholics attending Mass on Sundays, they only see this garden's growth with the calling of the names during Lent, the special blessings and sending forth prior to communion. Maybe even then, it is just an added attraction that extends the Mass as does an occasional baptism. But, there is more to this and each and every Catholic sitting in the pews has a part in this process.
The RCIA program is not just for newcomers, it is meant for all Catholics. Like planting a garden, the selection of the seeds, their needs of sunlight, water, good soil are important for a successful harvest. Careful planning of what, when, and how to plant the seeds; even preserving the new seeds for the next season are considered. Preparation is key to this process and without help from family members, friends, it would be a lonely and even daunting job.
As with a spring garden, those in the RCIA programs in your parish are experiencing new growth, too. They are studying, being nurtured, taking classes, and they need our prayers. During Lent, they are coming to the end of their journey into the Catholic Church. The goal, in sight, is a celebration that takes preparation. How they got here, what brought them to this place and who will help them during and after they arrive is Catholic-based. The seed has come to the surface, desiring more sunlight, water, and fertile soil to continue to grow and blossom.
Get out your watering cans, put your garden gloves on, and see where you can be a part of this for someone. Yes, pray for them, smile at them, and speak to them encouraging words. Be a welcoming face in the new community that they so desire to be a part of.
This is what Lent is all about, yes get rid of the candy for 40 days, stop snacking for a few weeks, pray the rosary and stations of the Cross, most definitely! But, remember the newcomers, remember them spiritually, physically, and be a support for them during your Lenten journey this year. This is a level far deeper than giving up candy.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

And, always have a way out that is different from the way in.

Anthony Horton, 43 didn't make a lot of money, drive a fancy car, own an amazingly huge home with a beach cottage in the next state.  He didn't have a loving wife and family and he didn't have a desire to achieve greatness in terms believable only to those having more than he.  Anthony was a simple and kind man with a heart, a mind, and a soul.......and something to share.  Too bad he perished in a subway fire on Sunday.

Mr. Horton lived in the subway tunnels of NYC where he found his solace and peace.  He had a reputation of being a gentle kind man, a prolific artist, and loved music.  He shared his story with a lady who eventually helped him write a book, "Pitch Black."  In it he shared what he learned living in the tunnels, where he found his creativity and some rules of thumb that we can all take a lesson from, including:
  • Always carry a light.
  • Anything you need can be found in the garbage.
  • Always have more than one spot.
  • And, always have a way out that is different from the way in.
The Church teaches and I believe that God is in everyone; He was truly in Anthony as well.  Yes, he had problems, don't we all in one degree or another.  But in these few rules of thumb in his book, I see God's presence and love in this man's life.

God is truly in all of us, so during Lent many of us make great plans to be closer to Him.  In the process, we  test the body's will power, decision making, and discipline of time management.  All in all, we want to be different, more of something and less of something else.  So we make plans each Lenten season reading books and finding inspiration for our journey.  Making plans for myself, I've been inspired by Mr. Horton and his rules of thumb:

- "Always carry a light." Carrying the light of Christ with me through the tunnels of life, finding the good in everyone and every situation that come into my path.  I'm not the nicest person at times and this needs to change. 

-"Anything you need can be found in the garbage".  Knowing that there are adversities everywhere, that I do make mistakes, but through Christ's love for me I can make a garbage moment or attitude better through prayer and faith in Him; I'll make that my mission of change.

-"Always have more than one spot."  There are more places to be than just in the present, remembering where we have come from and knowing how we got here, being humbled by the hard lessons of life, can continue to change our hearts and minds.  The pain of a situation is the strengthening of the character for the future.  The martyrs gave us that lesson through the ages. I'm not just in the here and now, I'm a compilation of where I have been and where I am headed.  We are not promised tomorrow, nor a rose garden, but we are promised the hope of something far better before us.  Christ is our hope, and I must keep my eyes on Him in whatever or where ever I am.

-"And, always have a way out that is different from the way in."  At the end of this season of Lent, will I have a different outlook than I did when I entered?  Will I come out a better person, a changed person?  That is my goal, just like the paralyzed man who wanted to see Jesus so bad that his friends made a hole in the roof for him to be lowered.  Through his faith and determination, he was cured and instead of leaving the same way he came in, he went out the front door, forever changed.

Changed forever, ending up much different, closer to God, a better person, than when I came into Lent.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Some thoughts about Lent

Driving along in town to pick up our daughter in the new Catholic high school I got to thinking about Ash Wednesday and what it means to be repentant.  The ancients would put on sack cloths, roll around in ashes and walk through town to prove that they are a sorry sinner.  Since doing that in modern times would cause more serious result, what can I do this year that would be different and more in keeping with my personal relationship with God.  I surprised myself one afternoon while driving home with carpool students in the car. I always ask them 2 questions after they're settled in and we are on the road home, "What was the best thing that happened and what was the worse thing that happened to you today."  I give them the choice of which question they want first, but they have to have an answer for both.  One day I asked the kids what they were doing for Lent?  They all said what they were giving up, candy, chocolate, soda, etc, then I said, "OK that's your physical sacrifice, what about your spiritual sacrifice?  What are you going to do to help get closer to Jesus?  I don't remember the specifics, but they were not surprised or taken back by my question, they knew what I was talking about and knew they needed to do something spiritually during Lent as well.  Nice.

In the past, I dreaded Lent, especially right after Christmas thinking about this dark season of sin and  penance, it certainly was not a fun time to look forward to. During advent we are waiting, preparing a place in our lives for Jesus, appreciating the amazing gift of the incarnation to redeem the world.  It's a miracle, a gift, the promised answer to prayers of old!  During Lent, the time is spent as a time of examination, reevaluation, and sin.  Pain, sorrow, torture and death consume the readings and the Friday stations of the cross are times of great sadness and remorse.  Definitely, Christmas is more fun and pleasurable to live through!

OK, so here we are again with Lent upon us and there is no getting away from it.  Absolutely, anyone can get through it without fasting, surely there are those who do not pay any attention to this solemn time of year, but what do they gain? Without a time of looking inward into our deepest of deep selves and working out some problem areas that we don't think we need to change any other time of the year, we would not make any progress with our relationship with God!  If we didn't stop to ask that question that made Mayor Koch, of NYC famous: "How am I doing?" we wouldn't have to look inward for an answer.

So in recent years, I have come to welcome this season as a good time, as I stop to roll up my sleeves in the face of my sinful ways. Each year is a new opportunity; I may still be working on the same issues, though, but still taking time to chisel away a small part of the ways that hurt our Lord and stain my soul.  Each year a smaller part of what makes me build walls melts away in prayer and mortification.  Each year, I get a chance to tell God I am so sorry and I want to change.  Each year, I get a chance to do this all over again, but each year I am that much closer to God. 

What am I going to do different this year?  Meditation seems to be the buzz word along with the Divine Mercy chaplet and the Jesus prayer.  Making time for Jesus in these prayers and quiet time along with the mantra, "Eat to live, not live to eat." No snacking and drinking nothing but on cup of coffee in the morning only. Physical and spiritual fasting, check!

How about you?  Care to share??  I'm interested!!