Saturday, February 20, 2010

How to Fast

As I ponder fasting, abstinence and "giving up" things for Lent, I am given insight in Friday's first reading:  Isaiah 58:6-7:  "This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:  releasing those bound unjustly...setting free the oppressed...sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own."

These seem to be very clear instructions.  God is telling Isaiah to tell the people that it is not sackcloth and ashes he requires, but for them to care for each other.  Strive for fairness, free the oppressed, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of your family, friends, community.  All these things I should be doing all the time, now is the time to really focus on them.  To make it a habit once again.  Maybe it will be working at a food bank or soup kitchen; maybe packing an extra sandwich and giving it to the panhandler who approaches me in the parking lot at Walmart.  Sacrificing my own agenda to help provide care for the friend or relative who is facing the prospects of a nursing home.  Offering temporary room and board to friends or family trying to get back on their feet.

I could get worried about being taken advantage of;  yet what did our Lord do but give His very life for me?  He asks me let go of my anxiety and just trust Him.  The funniest part is that when I start to give I am the one who receives the most benefit;  I think I have a clearer idea of what I"m supposed to be doing now.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

These forty days of Lent, O Lord, with you we fast and pray;
Teach us to discipline our wills and follow Lord your way.
(These Forty Days of Lent, (c) 1970 WLP)

I don't know what I'm "giving up" for Lent this year. I try to fast and abstain from meat on Fridays, and today of course, though physical limitations sometimes interfere.  I tried to give up coffee a couple years ago and actually made it past the initial headaches, but when the foggy haze refused to lift, I caved in.  That took about 2 weeks.  One year I gave up chocolate, successfully, but right now that just seems like too much torture to endure again.  The last couple years I have worked on certain character defects, but now this has become habit, and I think I should embark upon something new and difficult.

Our pastor emphasized prayer, fasting and abstinence in his homily today.  Making time to pray no matter how busy we are.  

Fasting - what can I forego, in solidarity with Jesus' suffering?  Maybe a day to day decision - a meal, another gadget, a movie.  Put the money saved where it will help someone else.

Abstinence - no meat on Fridays is easy, we already have 2 or 3 meatless days a week.  To abstain from negative remarks in conversation - that can be hard.  To abstain from gossip, even when it's just "reporting the facts", that's challenging. 

Now that we have been marked with the ashes of last year's Palm Sunday palms, it is time to inwardly clean house and declutter our lives to become better bearers of the gospel.  As St. Paul says to the Corinthians in today's second reading:  "We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through reconciled to God...Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation".

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What do Nuns do?

I miss the presence of nuns in my rural parish. I was fortunate to attend Catholic school for most of my school years and they were everywhere then. They were our teachers, disciplinarians (ya, that was way back!), role models, referees and playmates.

There was Sr. Josephine, 3 feet tall, who swung a wicked ruler; Sr. Rita, who would perform a juggling act to recapture the attention of an unruly class; Sr. Rachel, who would jump right into any sport we were playing, from handball to volleyball, jump rope to kickball.  The flying skirts and veils of recess gave way to the dignified setting  of the classroom and frequently a stern look was all the ammunition needed to maintain order.  These amazing women lived in the convent next to the school, attended daily Mass with us, and exuded a love of living for Jesus that spilled over into everything they did.

So what's a nun's life really like?  Thanks to the internet, you can find out.  There are several nun blogs where cloistered and non cloistered sisters open up about their daily routines, hopes, frustrations, joys and adventures.  Would you believe a nun having a pirate-themed birthday party?  Check out  Nuns in shorts and tshirts climbing ladders to make building repairs?  There really is a place for any interest in religious life - seclusion, working with people, health care, education, missions, and so much more.  Most orders have websites now, and interested parties can email for more info.

The Smithsonian Institution is sponsoring a travelling exhibition, through 2012, called "Women and Spirit - Catholic Sisters in America"  The exhibit's homepage contains an awesome video of some of the exhibit and commentary.  Definitely worth a look.