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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Have a Great Time

I always want to wish everyone a "Happy Ash Wednesday" because I am exuberant about Lent. Of course that would be inappropriate. I know "Have a Blessed Ash Wednesday" would be the way to go, but it doesn't cut it for me. Too.........quiet.

Lent has begun. What a great time!

Not a great time, as in 'we had a great time."

A great time, as in "times that are full of greatness."

Just for a moment let's pretend we're not Catholic. Only for a moment, though, really. (And let's not get hit by a bus during this moment. You're ashes can go to ashes and your dust to dust after the moment passes.)

What would we get out of Lent, with no religion involved, by just using the time to do without?

Character building, that's what. Anyone who had had to live through the Great Depression, or been in bootcamp, or deployed away from home, or scraping by to feed the family and pay the bills or taken a back seat one day so someone else can shine will tell you that giving something up builds character.

So to do it for forty days will build quite a bit of character. "That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger." Who said that anyhow? FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE. Speaking of no religion involved!

Now let's be Catholic again.

Whew! I hope no meteors hit anyone.

Lent is where the rubber hits the road to heaven. Because we are not just going to give something up. We are going to sacrifice. The word "sacrifice" (which no doubt does not appear in Oxford Junior Dictionary) is
from the Latin sacrificium: sacr, "sacred" + facere, "to make." We are going to make what we don't do sacred.

Which means: no whining, no blabbering about our great sacrificesl. Do it. Offer it up. And shut up about it.


Happy Lent!

Which brings me to today's question:

I have an Ash Wednesday question. My husband just brought it up as if it were an original idea, but I have wondered this every year for years. The Gospel reading for today starts out: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them." Then we go out from Mass and go to our jobs or our shopping with big black crosses on our foreheads. So, isn't there a bit of irony in that? How do we reconcile the words and the act in this case?

Something has gone awry in your thinking about the meaning of the ashes and why we walk around with them on all day. Wearing ashes on your head is not a 'righteous deed'. Wearing ashes on your head is supposed to be an act of humility. Even more so in today's society where everyone is so very conscious of how they look every second.

You do need to shut up about your righteous deeds when you actually do them. You don't give money to the poor and then run around all day telling everyone you gave money to the poor. This is not election day for the good deed doers, where you get to wear a little sticker all day that says, "I gave." This is the day to wear ashes on your head all day because you are just a pile of dust that God chose to give life. You pile of dust you.

The ashes on your head don't tell everyone on the bus that you have done righteous deeds. The ashes on your head tell everyone on the bus that you are really a pile of dust.

At the end of Lent we will be celebrating the fact that we are piles of dust that God chose to give eternal life. Pretty impressive. But not to be confused with righteous deeds.

Why did we have that reading today? Because today is about being humble. The whole season is about humility. But showing up for Mass is not a righteous deed. It's an obligation.


Lawrence said...

"Offer it up". That's exactly what my 5th through 8th grade teacher, whose name coincidentally was Sister Mary Martha of the Sisters of St. Joseph, drilled into us all those years ago. It has served me well over the years, and I thank God I was given a good Catholic education.

But Neitzsche went crazy, (I say) from the application of his philosophy, and his identification with what Jung called an Archtype... and not a very nice Archtype either!

Leigh said...

How blessed we are to be given the honor to sacrifice in His name. On that note, "Happy Lent" works for me.

Sister, your fan page is up and running on Facebook. People have already started to sign up on your fan page. By the way, your fan page category is listed under "celebrities/public figures". So, there you go! Next, you'll be chattin' it up with Fr. Corapi on EWTN! Oh what a show that would be!
One can only dream, right?

Feisty Irish Wench said...

Even in humility, you find humor. Thanks for sharing.

Rebekka said...

Here in Denmark we get our ashes on the tops of our heads, not on our foreheads. I don't know why. But unless you have **really** blond hair (and not many adults do) nobody notices.

Robin said...

In the old Rite of the Mass, men knelt at the Communion rail on one side and women on the other. The women moved aside their mantillas, and ashes were placed on top of the head, so this might be why it is still done this way in Denmark. For monks with tonsures, the ashes were definitely visible!

As for dust - in a homily available on www.airmaria.com, Fr. Ignatius mentioned that not only are we dust, but we are dust that is capable of offending God! How's that for a dose
of humility!! He also mentions that the wearing of ashes stems from the early Christian practice of publicly doing penance for our sins by marking the penitents. He can do a much better job than I of explaining it - check out the homily!

Jennie C. said...

We arrived at our church just as our priest was walking in. "Happy Ash Wednesday," he called out.

"Why, thank you!" I called back. "We just love Ash Wednesday!"

He seemed flabbergasted, making me wonder why he offered that particular greeting to begin with, but it's true: we, the children and I, love Lent. Maybe it's because, unlike Christmas with all its gifts, Lent is not about us, even a little. It's just about Jesus.

Steve T. said...

Technically, Neitzsche had sex once and got Syphilis from it. He might have done better to just offer up his virginity and not hang out with hookers.

Sr. you are a hoot, I tell everyone about you. I do trust that you really are a Religious. :-)

Oh, and Happy Lent

Shannon said...


Happy, Happy Lent to you and Sister St. Aloysius and Sister St. Fiacre.

Purple is a great color, isn't it?

R Mahar said...

Sister, forgive me - this has nothing to do with this post's topic but I thought you needed to see this:

Modern Catholic Mom said...

Thank you Sister for you candidness! Every year I try to look at the whole 'sacrifice' thing and really understand it. Every year as Lent ends I realize I didnt come even close! I get caught up in the 'rules and regulations' of the Church and forget that by not eating meat I am making a loving gesture to our Lord.... Maybe this year I will get closer to the sacrifice end of it all. Thanks for this post- Tara

Anonymous said...

Hi, Sister,
Happy belated Ash Wednesday to you! I am so glad you answered that question because I was wondering the same thing. It makes complete sense now.

Thanks for your blog - I am a huge fan. You've answered so many of my questions and many I hadn't ever thought about before.