(From U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian May, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Ash Wednesday celebration aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp.)
Ash Wednesday comes this week, so I'll get ashes on my forehead and start doing my Lenten routines — along with folks around the world.
That won't include the usual fasting: I'm past the 18-to-59 age requirement for Catholics in my region, and diabetic to boot. We're called to holiness, not stupidity; common sense applies, or should; and I'm putting a 'resources' link list at the end of this post.1
Lent is a time for penance; which involves fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Actually, any sort of penance involves those three items. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1434-1439)
That doesn't sound like much fun, so why do it? I'm a Christian, I've been baptized, so my sins are washed away and I'm good to go, right?
Not quite. It's a bit more complicated.
First of all, I do not think sin a handful of activities I either don't enjoy, can't participate in, or actively dislike.
(From NASA, via astrobio.net, used w/o permission.)
Sin is what happens when I decide not to do something I should; or decide to do something I know is bad for myself or others, and do it anyway. It's an offense against reason and truth: and God. (Catechism, 1849-1864)
"SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854)."What I should do is Love God and love my neighbor, and see everyone as my neighbor. (Matthew 5:43-44; 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:25-27, 29-37; Catechism, 1825)
(Catechism, Glossary, S)
It's simple, anything but easy, and I've said that before. Often (September 27, 2015; April 12, 2015; October 12, 2014)
I think I'm a sinner and live in a fallen world — again, that doesn't mean what some folks assume it does.
The universe is basically good, and so are we — basically. (Genesis 1:26-27, 31; Catechism, 31, 299,)
What went wrong is that the first of us listened to Satan, ignoring what God had said. Then Adam tried blaming his wife, and God, which did not end well. (Genesis 3:5-13)
That was a very, very long time ago — and we've been living with the disastrous consequences of their wrong choice ever since. (Catechism, 396-412)
Humanity is still made "in the divine image," but the harmony we had with ourselves and with the universe is broken: so loving ourselves, others, and God is a struggle. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 355-361, 374-379, 398, 400, 1701-1707)
"ORIGINAL SIN: The sin by which the first human beings disobeyed the commandment of God, choosing to follow their own will rather than God's will. As a consequence they lost the grace of original holiness, and became subject to the law of death; sin became universally present in the world. Besides the personal sin of Adam and Eve, original sin describes the fallen state of human nature which affects every person born into the world, and from which Christ, the 'new Adam,' came to redeem us (396-412)."
(Catechism, Glossary, O)
(From Thomas Cole, via the National Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
I received the Holy Spirit at baptism, entering the life of the Church, and starting my trek to God's kingdom. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 782, 1213-1284)
Baptism cleaned the slate, removing original sin and whatever personal sins I'd accumulated to date; making me "a new creature." It didn't, however, shield me from consequences of living in a world that's seriously out of harmony. (Catechism, 1262-1266)
It certainly won't keep me from dying, at which point I get a very serious interview with our Lord: my particular judgment, a final performance review. (Catechism, 1021-1022, 1051, 1814-1816)
After that — I have no idea how long, which is fine by me — there's the closing ceremony we call the Final Judgment, we see what Creation 2.0 is like, and I've been over that before. (November 29, 2015; November 23, 2014; April 19, 2015)
"10 11 So then, my beloved, obedient as you have always been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. 12If I'd never faltered in loving others, always loved God with all my heart and mind, and unfailingly walked the path of righteousness: I'd be a character on some none-too-believable story.
"For God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work."
We've had two people like that so far, I worship one of them, and the other is the woman who volunteered for a high-risk mission, two millennia back. (December 21, 2014; April 3, 2011)
Some Saints were mostly 'saintly' throughout their lives, and some weren't. They're Saints because they exhibited "heroic virtue" to the end. (Catechism, 828)
On their way to Sainthood, some of them were — well, a lot were like me, sort of. St. Augustine of Hippo comes to mind. Not that I'm in his league, and that's another topic.
I can't 'work my way into Heaven.' I rely on our Lord for salvation. I can't 'believe my way into Heaven' either. I must act as if God matters. (Catechism, 430-451, 1814-1816))
"Indeed someone might say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.About that Philippians quote, like I've said before:2 fear of the Lord is not being scared silly of God. It's more like respect. (Catechism, 2144)
"You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble."
"For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead."
(James 2:18-19, 26)
The ashes on my forehead are a good reminder that it's the start of Lent, and an outward sign of repentance.
But the real work happens inside: a "conversion of the heart, interior conversion." (Catechism, 1430-1431)
That's where fasting, prayer, and almsgiving come in. They're ways to fix my relationship with myself, God, and others. (Catechism, 1434-1439)
Like I said, conventional fasting isn't an option for me: apart from the micro-fast, which isn't an official term, before receiving the Eucharist. (Catechism, 1387)
For the last several years I've added something to my daily routines during Lent. It's not quite 'fasting,' but the change in schedule does mean I give up time that I'd use for activities I enjoy more. It's a sort of "voluntary self-denial." (Catechism, 1438)
This time around, I'm adding three hours a week to exercising and another two at the Adoration chapel down the street. It's hardly the sort of "sackcloth and ashes" thing Daniel 9:3 talks about, but it's a start.
More of my take on:
- "Pope Francis and Nietzsche"
(September 27, 2015)
- "Sex, Satan, and Me: Getting a Grip"
(July 12, 2015)
- "Fire, Brimstone, and Lollipop Faith"
(March 15, 2015)
- "Skydiving and Lent"
(February 15, 2015)
- "God's Field Kits: Pentecost Plus Two Millennia and Counting"
(June 8, 2014)
1 Lenten resources:
- USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)