I would like to offer a creative approach to Lent which begins February 12th this year.
Traditionally, Lent is a time for housecleaning. Housecleaning of our souls. Housecleaning is usually a boring and dreaded task but when everything is shiny bright, there is a sense of satisfaction.
However, housecleaning is superficial. We dust the exterior but leave the interior untouched. We should think about house-rearranging, not just housecleaning. Let us consider that fundamentally, all of us are sinners. All of us have tendencies to serious sin and have been redeemed by the blood of Christ.
For all of my priesthood I have summarized our serious tendency toward sin by the following:
A refusal of love,
A refusal to love,
A refusal to grow,
and a refusal to give thanks.
In all of these, the root problem is that we take our lives and our sources of love for granted. We take for granted our relationship with our spouse instead of renewing it every day. We take back our love for our children every time they annoy us. We take for granted our spiritual and emotional growth that would renew us in body, soul and spirit and give us new life, new growth each Lent. We take for granted all our gifts, both material and spiritual instead of renewing our relationship with God on a daily basis. We tend to allow the dysfunction of our lives to encrust us in dust that takes the shine off our souls.
Even dust, dear friends, can be a serious matter because it means we have taken our outer and inner house for granted. We have to go deep. Deep into our souls. We have to throw out what is not needed and that clutters up our lives.
That's what Lent is for; to attend lovingly to our inner house, our soul. And to give thanks for Jesus as we follow his story each week during Lent, Jesus who has redeemed us from our tendencies to mess up our lives and the lives of those around us.
If we were to look at present tendencies to sin, that is, to seek other sources than God for our nourishment and strength, we would look to those areas in our life where we seek instant gratification. In other words, we examine our life to see where we pamper ourselves and say, "Oh, I need a drink!"
But maybe its not alcohol we turn to relieve us from stress. Maybe it's chocolate or a bottomless cup of coffee or a cigarette or the Soaps on TV or gossiping on the telephone or, even more serious, sexual forays in the late night.
In all these tendencies toward instant gratification, we refuse love, refuse to be loved, refuse to grow and refuse to give thanks for the fundamental goodness of our lives. Our instant gratification can be a form of idolatry in which we refuse to recognize that God is the one who refreshes us, nourishes us, comforts us, illumines us.
I have long realized that I may have an "addictive personality." Once I root out serious addictions from my life, others creep in, like the ever-present dust in my apartment. The analogy to a dusty apartment suggests that we are always in need of sprucing up our souls.
Believe it or not, my present addiction is orange juice. When I was sick last month, I started drinking lots and lots of the Florida Gold. I don't take the concentrated stuff, but the expensive kind -- the one with juicy bits of orange in it. I have been drinking nearly a gallon a day. Now that seems wholesome enough; what better beverage than liquid sunshine? Until you consider that in the past month I spent over $100 on juice! And I have to go back every three days to replenish my stash! So, you see how even the most innocent of addictions can have serious consequences.
But I would like to mention here the most serious one for our society that I did not list thus far -- the instant gratification we get from shopping. Perhaps the greatest serious sinfulness in all of American society is our tendency to spend money indiscriminately. (I talked about this in the earlier fall issues of Arise.)
Consumerism is a very serious evil in our time. We are pressed to buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend. Our whole economy is based on the illusion of an ever-expanding market, a GNP that goes up and up. This is an illusion because we simply cannot spend and spend more and not pay the piper. My heart goes out to those who have maxed out their credit cards and accumulated debts that will enslave them for a lifetime.
There is an antidote for this that I suggest might be the focus of the Lenten discipline for each one of us.
What would happen if each of us for Lent only spent money on what we need instead of what we want? I am going to do this as part of my Lenten discipline. We could set aside the money we save -- or even just a portion of it -- and donate it to some worthy cause that fosters justice in our society or provides for the basic needs of children around the world.
Consumerism is a sin against -- a refusal to love, be concerned about -- those peoples on the earth that are deprived of the bare necessities.
Whatever happened to sin? It has entangled our society and most of us who gratify our needs by going shopping for things we want instead of need. Consumerism is a deadly sin if there ever was one. It will enslave us and all the peoples of the earth.
I am serious: I propose that each of us, discipline our spending by keeping our wallet in our pocket or purse and asking three times, "Do I need this gidget? Do I really need one more T-shirt?
We have only seen two economic systems in our century. One -- Communism -- has collapsed in the dust. The other is worshipped as a god. When we shop, we may be, really, participating in idolatry.
What's the alternative? I really don't know, but there has to be an alternative. We have to find a way to cut down our spending -- including government spending. The National Debt is an evil that will be paid for on the backs of our children and grand children. And we may well enter into retirement and take away the opportunity for our children's education before we pay for remodeling our kitchen in the Spring of 1997.
In addition to my own insanity of running up a $100 a month bill on orange juice, I would offer this scenario: A woman I know who has a modest-paying job wanted to have the best wedding she could imagine for her daughter. She worked two jobs and, according to the spending on the wedding, will be paying for it twenty years from now -- all for one day's festivities.
Slavery is still among us, dear readers. We are enslaving ourselves and our children and all of the world's peoples by our undisciplined spending.
So I have laid out (1) a realization that serious sin still has a pernicious tendency to encrust our lives and (2) we can do something about it.Incorporate into your Lenten program a daily look at the ways you seek instant gratification to make you feel better. And most particularly, look at the issue of your spending. Keep your wallet in your pocket until you decide whether this item is something you need or is it just something that you want that will be just one more thing to clutter up your house or closet.
Jesus said to the devil "Not by bread alone shall we live, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." Let this Lent be a time in which we realize that we depend on God, not our credit cards. Let this Lent be a time in which we turn away from the idolatry that has crept into our lives and renew our relationship with God.
So, let us turn to the Word. Let us realize that God is God and God alone can satisfy our need for solace and comfort, nourishment and release from stress. Let us cleanse our souls. Let us do a thorough house-rearranging of our inner house.
Happy Lent, dear friends. If you have become bored with this holy season, realize that it is a great gift which the Church gives us in our liturgy to renew and refresh us and to ensure growth within us. Do it well. I surely have offered a new twist to our Lenten discipline. We can make it fun and a stimulating experience. Whenever you are prompted to take out your wallet, ask yourself three times, "Do I really need this?" If the answer is no, keep your wallet in your pocket. And if you have a problem maxing out your credit cards, consider cutting them up and using a debit card which take your money directly from the bank.
We are in the countdown to the Great Millennial celebration in which we want to offer a cleansed and purified and holy world to Jesus on his great birthday.
In this regard, I would encourage you to take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Toward the last two weeks of Lent, participate in a parish penance celebration or make an appointment to go to private confession. Ask the Lord to seal your effort for renewal so that God's grace will wash through your soul and make it shiny bright.
"Turn away from sin and believe in the gospel," the minister says to us on Ash Wednesday. Let God renew your life, your family, your job, your parish and, indeed, help to renew the whole world.
Balance your financial and spiritual accounts. And let there be a substantial sharing from your substance for the poor children of the earth's peoples.