Learning to Lighten Up for Lent

My grandfather grew hard of hearing in his old age, aggravated by parish acoustics that weren’t the best. One Ash Wednesday he thought he heard the priest make a peculiar announcement.

“Did he just say there’s brandy in the ashes?” Grandpa asked Nana.

“No, dear,” she replied. “He said to step forward and they’ll brand you with the ashes.”

Grandpa was mildly disappointed. He was a Wild Turkey man but wouldn’t have sniffed at a snifter on a raw February holy day.

Brandy in the ashes may not be Saturday Night Live material, but it’ll do during Lent.

We tend to view Lent as a season of deprivation. It is certainly tilted toward spiritual preparation and personal reflection. It is a time to be tested.

Giggles are meant to be few during the forty days.

Our Clara is about to turn fourteen. This year her birthday falls on Holy Saturday. She wonders if this “qualifies” her as an adult in the Catholic sense. Does she need to fast?

Technically, the season ends on Holy Thursday with the start of the Triduum. The letter of the law says she’s off the hook.

Clara won’t like to hear that. Unlike most, she’s keen to give something up for Lent. She wants the challenge.

Can she do it? Can she live without consumption of this or that material thing for forty days and forty nights? She’s ready to be tested.

Our Clara’s picked up a lot of good and practical theology on YouTube from Fr. Mike Schmitz of the Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota. Normally I vote against catechism by social media, but this guy is good and Clara eats it up.

Call it Khan Academy for Catholics.

It doesn’t hurt that Fr. Mike is handsome like a movie star. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s funny. He self-deprecates. He does weird voices. All in the service of teaching the faith. Take a look. I think you’ll agree that he adds value.

“There are people who just can’t seem to break free from the past,” Fr. Mike wrote in a recent blog post. “I have one piece of advice for them: laugh. Laugh at yourself. . . . The Christian is the one who does not need to take themselves so seriously.”

That’s the kind of Christian I’d like to be.

We take sin seriously, Fr. Mike goes on. We take God seriously. But we don’t always have to be so severe with ourselves.

Have you ever heard someone described as a “serious person”? Often it’s meant as a compliment. I always hear it as a slur.

Clara may not be holier than thou, but she’s certainly holier than moi. I look forward to St. Patrick’s Day as a nice break from Lenten seriousness. Last year Paddy’s Day fell on a Friday. More than 80 bishops granted dispensations to the faithful torn between Catholicism and corned beef. That’s pretty funny.

Here’s something else that’s good for a giggle: In 2010 Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans ruled that alligator meat is considered seafood, and therefore kosher for Fridays during the forty.

“Abstinence and fasting is supposed to be a sacrifice,” he added, just in case cajun Catholics are tempted to gastrobomb their gator gumbo.

My Lenten struggle is the same as my all-year-long struggle. Discipline has never been a strong suit. One year I resolved to go to daily mass. That lasted about ten days. I had better success the year my wife locked me out of Facebook by changing the password and refusing to give it up.

(The idea was mine, not hers. She wouldn’t torture me like that.)

“I’m giving up being stupid for Lent,” Fr. Mike jokes at the beginning of one of his videos. I’ll follow his lead. I’m aiming to make it more than ten days this time.

Seriously.

From the February 2018 issue of Fairfield County Catholic

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