It’s Ash Wednesday: Time to Indulge!

Today’s Ash Wednesday.  Wait! What?  Already?  I still have to put some boxes of Christmas decorations back in the attic.

Lent begins early this year–probably about the earliest that it can be.  But, truth be told, Lent always kind of creeps up on me. I never seem ready to begin 40 days of fasting, prayer, and renewing my relationship with God.

Of course, my Lenten resolutions, like my New Year resolutions, end up having a very short life span. It’s hard to maintain any sort of consistent practice–whether it be fasting, doing charity, giving alms, or simply praying more–for 40 consecutive days.

This year, though, I have a little bit of a different attitude towards Lent, sparked by last Sunday’s Gospel reading. It was the story of the miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5: 1-11).  Jesus instructs the weary fisherman, including Peter, to continue fishing though they had not caught anything for many hours. Their reward is an overabundant catch of fish.  Peter’s response is a very human one:  he feels that Jesus’ gift of the great catch is not something he deserves because he is a sinner.

I often feel like Peter did.  I never understand why God continues to be so good to me when I have so many faults and do so much that is wrong.  Like many people, I often wonder at the way God works in the world and why so much suffering and struggle have to happen for people to find God in their lives.  When I read this gospel story, I think of how mysteriously God acts in the opposite direction, too:  God is always sending out gifts and graces to people like me who don’t deserve them.

This message is resonating particularly strongly with me this year, as our Church celebrates the Jubilee of Mercy.  It seems to me that one of the messages of this year is that God kind of overdoes it when it comes to lavishing mercy upon humanity.  Unfortunately, our response to that can sometimes be guilt.  God is like the person who gives you expensive jewelry for Christmas when your present is a box of candy.  The dynamic creates an awkward feeling inside.

So, here’s a suggestion for Lent.  Instead of giving up something, indulge.  So, instead of giving up chocolate, allow yourself to indulge in healthy food and snacks.  Instead of sacrificing by doing volunteer work at a soup kitchen, allow yourself to be open to the gifts and lessons the poor can teach you when you are engaged in charitable work.  Instead of forcing yourself to pray every day, allow yourself a half-hour to just be quiet with God and relax in Divine Love.  God is lavishing mercy on us in a special way this year. Let’s learn to accept it and enjoy it.

This kind of exercise is especially helpful for folks who advocate for LGBT equality.  I think that we get so used to the challenge and hardship of the work, that we forget to accept the victories joyfully. I know that even more than seven months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, I’m still having to remind myself that marriage is now a legal right for all.  I’m reminded of a quip a friend once told me:  “Just because you work for justice doesn’t mean you always lose.”

I hope that by celebrating God’s mercy this Lent, by allowing myself to receive and accept that mercy better, maybe I’ll help myself grow out of the attitude that nothing is really changing and start to see and appreciate the small miracles that abound around me each day.

If you read or listen to the lectionary readings in the coming weeks, you will see that Lent is a feast of God’s mercy.  Let’s indulge–and overindulge–in this feast!

Happy Lent!

–Francis DeBernardo

9 thoughts on “It’s Ash Wednesday: Time to Indulge!

  1. liferfriend February 10, 2016 / 7:10 am

    This was lovely. Thank you! Susan

    Sent from my Sprint Samsung Galaxy S® 6.

  2. paulaczech@comcast.net February 10, 2016 / 8:12 am

    Frank, if anyone on this earth has managed to “move mountains” or at least “nudge them onward,” it’s you and New Ways Ministry. I am so grateful to you seemingly tireless folks – you, Sister Jeannine, the late Fr. Nugent, Bob Shine and all your compatriots for all that you do for ALL our children ALL of the time. Part of my lenten observance will be spent doing things in gratitude for all that you continue to do. You have helped so many to keep the faith………..and I mean that. Wishing you baskets of gentle joys and blessings……………. Paula

  3. Sister Kay Heverin February 10, 2016 / 1:08 pm

    Wonderful reflection. Good reminder. Thanks Frank

  4. Denise Carmody February 10, 2016 / 3:08 pm

    What a beautiful invitation. Happy Lent. D

    On Tue, Feb 9, 2016 at 10:01 PM, Bondings 2.0 wrote:

    > newwaysministryblog posted: “Today’s Ash Wednesday. Wait! What? > Already? I still have to put some boxes of Christmas decorations back in > the attic. Lent begins early this year–probably about the earliest that it > can be. But, truth be told, Lent always kind of creeps up on me.” >

  5. Kathleen February 10, 2016 / 4:50 pm

    Wow! I didnt realize how lousy i was feeling until i read this! I started out this morning with the best of lenten intentions and blew it by 10am. It seems this way every year lent is such a failure for me. Even the littlest sacrifice i try to make is anxiety producing and seems to propel me in the wrong direction until Easter finally gets here and i can begin to follow Christ again in awe instead of shame. This negative lenten cycle of many years may have just been broken by your words Frank. I am very thankful to you. Thank you. Wishing you all a blessed lent filled with joyful little miracles.

  6. vocation@claretianvocation.org February 10, 2016 / 4:58 pm

    Dear Francis,   I am new to the bondings posts and I realize you can’t make everyone happy, but  this post really misses the mark.   I am hardly an asetic, and I get your point about becoming aware of God’s infinite love poured out on us and guilt is not always our best response if it is our only response, but the rest of the message falls too easily into the hedonistic culture that surrounds us that we need to indulge ourselves all the time.   This is a fundamental misunderstanding of this season to fit an agenda. I am disturbed to ever suggest that we should skip the soup kitchen, or that prayer is being forced upon us.  Perhaps it is your Word choices and not your intention, but even so, ALL of these things are valuable so we should be careful not to push people in to black -White  (good-bad) thinking.   Easter will be our time to revel in the victories….everthing has its season, but this season is a marked time for reflection, cleansing and everyone even  we have work to do to unroot values we hold that sometimes Works against our goals.    I am hopeful your future words can better reflect the season we are entering.  There are so many ways to take the tradition and apply it to our goals….fast from prejudice, or jokes that demean others, pray for our youth on the streets or go to an LGBT center to help Street youth, make a donation (alms) for LGBT hotline….   thank you for considering these thoughts           Ray Smith  

    • newwaysministryblog February 10, 2016 / 6:01 pm

      Ray,

      Thanks for your comment and for your interest in this blog. I don’t think that we are too much in disagreement with each other. I may have used hyperbole that didn’t get understood.

      I was not disrespecting the traditional practices of Lent: fasting, prayer, almsgiving, charity. I totally support these practices. The point that I was trying to make is that sometimes we approach these practices with a negative or grudging attitude. I was trying to get across the point that the purpose of Lent is not our hardships, but in recognizing the abounding mercy that God wants to shower us with.

      I definitely do not want to be encouraging hedonism. I don’t think the suggestions I made in the seventh paragraph were hedonistic:

      So, here’s a suggestion for Lent. Instead of giving up something, indulge. So, instead of giving up chocolate, allow yourself to indulge in healthy food and snacks. Instead of sacrificing by doing volunteer work at a soup kitchen, allow yourself to be open to the gifts and lessons the poor can teach you when you are engaged in charitable work. Instead of forcing yourself to pray every day, allow yourself a half-hour to just be quiet with God and relax in Divine Love. God is lavishing mercy on us in a special way this year. Let’s learn to accept it and enjoy it.

      I hope that people understood that I was actually encouraging them to perform fasting, charity, and prayer, but encouraging them to look at these practices as ways to appreciate the mercy of God and the good things that God wants for us. I’m sorry if my meaning got lost in the writing.

      Throughout Lent, most of the lectionary readings focus not on humanity’s evil, but on how much God wants us to live in divine love. I think that message sometimes gets lost in the usual way most people approach and perform the Lenten practices. I think it is good to be reminded that these practices aren’t designed to make us feel guilty and unworthy of God’s love (like Peter in last Sunday’s gospel reading), but to help us appreciate that God is constantly offering mercy to us. So, giving up candy doesn’t need to be a burden that one “white-knuckles” through to the end of Lent, but it can be a reminder that God wants us to eat healthily. Working in a soup kitchen shouldn’t be looked on as an obligation, but as one in which the volunteers are the ones who receive gifts from the poor, not the other way around. Praying doesn’t have to be one more thing to cram into a busy schedule, but an opportunity to relax in the arms of God, away from the busy schedule.

      I hope that clarifies my intention. I hope that my somewhat tongue-in-cheek way of expressing it was understood by others not as a license to hedonism, but as a way of approaching God’s mercy with a smiling face, appreciating the wonderful gift that it is.

      I totally support the suggestions that you made at the end of your comment, and I think they are in the same spirit in which I intended the post: Look at Lent as an opportunity to do and appreciate what is good.

      Thanks for your comment and for the opportunity for me to clarify my intention.

      Francis DeBernardo

  7. Friends February 11, 2016 / 5:27 pm

    I’ve frankly got to say: I’m a bit disturbed — OK, nauseated — by the story photo. Even as a joke, I can’t even contemplate anybody swallowing such a gargantuan amount of candy without suffering extreme health consequences. It’s completely off the charts of sane and reasonable behavior, as far as I’m concerned. Just my “gut reaction” — both literally and metaphorically — but I’d be interested in hearing how other folks responded to it, and especially to the painted fingernails representing a female consumer. (Merely for the record: my own chocolate consumption amounts to about four chocolates per month. Perhaps I’m over-sensitive, but the image really…I’ll say it…grosses me out!

    • Friends February 13, 2016 / 9:38 am

      Oops…MY BAD…it was too early in the morning! Clearly I meant “painted lips”…not “painted fingernails”…LOL! But my comments about the bad FX of eating too much candy: STET. It’s really not healthy to gorge on too much candy, as the illustration seems to encourage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s