Lenten Gameplan, 2021

posted by Mike on February 17th, 2021

Ash Wednesday, 2021

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

Every year, I think about the contrast between this verse (which is read aloud at mass) and the common practice of walking around in public for hours with a forehead full of ashes proclaiming your fast. This year, the ubiquitous facemask resolves this contradiction. I can even post a picture of myself on this blog—the mask imposes a certain humility, as you’ll never really know if the photo above is me after mass, or a photo of someone else I scrounged off Getty Images.

As usual, I’m giving up something for Lent. Unlike other years, I won’t mention what it is. I’ve learned to look for something that comforts me, but where that comfort leads me to avoid confronting an underlying problem, and/or that comfort keeps me from seeking refuge in God.

In this podcast, Matt Fradd takes the first ten minutes to give some practical advice on giving up stuff for Lent. My summary:

  • Be specific. (What exactly are you giving up, under what circumstances?)
  • Keep it simple. (Better to give up one thing than try and fail to give up two.)
  • Tell people your plan if that will make it more likely you follow through.
  • You’re under no obligation to find something extra to give up; your normal Lenten obligations are your only obligations.
  • Should you skip Sundays since they are technically not fasting days? A: “You can remit what you yourself impose.”

Am I content with my hypocrisies, or do I work to free my heart from the duplicity and falsehood that tie it down? (Pope Francis)

Mass this year was not much different than other COVID masses. For the imposition of ashes, the bishop used a fresh q-tip for each person. (One person replenished the supply while a deacon held a little container for the discards.) Most of the time when the priest puts ashes on your forehead, he uses his thumb, and steadies his hand by placing some fingers or even the heel of his hand on your face. There has not been much contact transmission of COVID, but having the priest put his hand on the face of everyone in the congregation does seem like a bad idea. (Like a lot of COVID precautions, it seems like one that might carry over to post-pandemic times.)

The biggest fasting news since last Ash Wednesday was probably this study that showed that intermittent fasting, specifically fasting 16 hours of every 24, did not help with weight loss or insulin issues. They concluded: “Time-restricted eating did not confer weight loss or cardiometabolic benefits in this study.”

Jacob, a non-religious Lent practitioner of many years, writes about “past Lenten give-ups” and notes: “The key to Lent is choosing something interesting to give up. This isn’t like New Year’s resolutions, where you’re explicitly trying to better yourself– as I understand it there isn’t really a morality angle to what you choose to give up for Lent. I mean you could give up something that’s bad for you, something good for you, or something neutral. The only thing that matters is it should be something that’s difficult for you to go without. It should be a challenge…. Of [the things I’ve given up], the one that got me in the most arguments was ‘Movies Made After 1965’, the one that was the most fucked-up was ‘Apologizing’, and the one that was the best for me in a general sense was probably ‘Snooze Button’. ‘Snooze Button’ and ‘Processed Sugar’ I did a few times…. I’m not a Bible lawyer but I think defining things in terms of a crutch cast aside is helpful to the process.”

posted by Mike in Fasting, Lent | on February 17th, 2021 | Permanent link | No Comments »

Christmas on Ice (#370 w/Ali Reid)

posted by Mike on December 19th, 2020

508 is a show about Worcester. This week, we talk with Ali Reid about Worcester’s skate mayor, “Christmas on Ice,” “Christmas a la Mode,” weird real estate mail, and the post-COVID Worcester of 2021.


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posted by Mike in 508: A Show about Worcester, Worcester | on December 19th, 2020 | Permanent link | No Comments »

Hot Dog! (508 #370 w/ Shaun Connolly)

posted by Mike on October 7th, 2020

508 is a show about Worcester. This week, we talk with Worcester legend Shaun Connolly about drought, banning Halloween, the state of standup, crime rates, and ballot questions.


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posted by Mike in 508: A Show about Worcester, Worcester | on October 7th, 2020 | Permanent link | No Comments »

Hike Worcester (508 #369 w/ Justin Raphaelson and Colin Novick)

posted by Mike on September 30th, 2020

508 is a show about Worcester. This week, we talk with Justin Raphaelson and Colin Novick about Justin’s unsupported, continuous run of the Hike Worcester Challenge, rats, trash, demolition, and forest fires.


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posted by Mike in 508: A Show about Worcester, Worcester | on September 30th, 2020 | Permanent link | No Comments »

Airline Food (508 #368)

posted by Mike on September 23rd, 2020

508 is a show about Worcester. This week, we talk about the baseball field and related development, flying in and out of the state, restaurants and COVID-19, municipal broadband, and clean air.


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posted by Mike in 508: A Show about Worcester, Worcester | on September 23rd, 2020 | Permanent link | No Comments »

Pre-Post-COVID Worcester (508 #367)

posted by Mike on September 9th, 2020

508 is a show about Worcester. This week, we talk about COVID, Black Lives Matter, school, homicide, air quality.


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posted by Mike in 508: A Show about Worcester, Worcester | on September 9th, 2020 | Permanent link | No Comments »

Public Masses Restart in Worcester

posted by Mike on May 20th, 2020

The Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, is restarting public masses this week.

Worcester Catholics have not been obliged to attend mass during the pandemic, and mass remains optional.

This plan takes the statewide safety standards for worship and adds a few tweaks. Here’s a PDF of the diocesan guidelines.

As the state asks:

  • Households will be masked and stay six feet apart. Some pews will be blocked off to maintain this distance.
  • No more than 40% the usual maximum occupancy will be allowed in the church.
  • No collection basket will be passed.
  • The parishes will come up with some way for people to leave church in an orderly, spaced manner.
  • People will not gather after mass, whether to schmooze with the priest on the front steps, or to share coffee and donuts in the church basement.

Some tweaks:

  • There will be no hymnals or bulletins. “One time use” paper worship aids are allowed, so a parish could print out the readings and make them available in the pews. Alternately “the faithful may also be reminded of online sources for the daily readings… which may be accessed on their cell phone.”
  • You can receive Holy Communion. This involves briefly removing your mask, of course. An usher will give you a squirt of hand sanitizer as you exit your pew to stand in line. People should stay 6 feet apart while in line for Communion. The priest or Eucharistic minister will keep their mask on. They will not refuse to place the consecrated host on your tongue, rather than in your hands, but they do discourage this. If the minister accidentally touches someone while distributing the host, they will stop and sanitize their hands before continuing. (In my experience they are pretty good at sanitizing before beginning, but I’ve never seen someone take a break in the middle like that.) If I am reading this right, while on the altar, the hosts will be kept in a closed container” at some distance from the breath of the celebrant.” (This seems like a great change.)
  • Church doors will be propped open, so nobody will have to touch them.
  • There will be very little singing. (Please let’s not joke about how New England Catholics never sing anyway.) Singing seems like the only thing that would make attending mass riskier than working in an office for an hour. The music will be instrumental or sung only by the cantor (no choirs). The exception are a few parts of the mass like the “Agnus Dei.” I am counting fewer than 40 words total that would be sung by the congregation.
  • The priests and liturgical ministers will not process down the central aisle at the beginning or end of mass.
  • Altar servers will wear masks while handling bread, wine, and water. They will otherwise be unmasked.

Some current restrictions will remain in place:

  • The consecrated host, but not the consecrated wine, will be distributed at Holy Communion.
  • People will not touch each other while exchanging the sign of peace.
  • There will be no open fonts of holy water.
  • Churches will be disinfected thoroughly after each mass.

Priests, deacons, altar servers, and other liturgical ministers will be unmasked for most of the mass.

posted by Mike in Religion, Worcester | on May 20th, 2020 | Permanent link | No Comments »

Gerard L’Esperance, 1929-2020, RIP

posted by Mike on May 6th, 2020

Gerard L’Esperance, long-time member of the Mustard Seed Catholic Worker community, has died.

He was a very sweet person and will be missed.

Many years back I did a quick interview with him for this blog, which gives a sense of his gentleness.

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posted by Mike in Hagiography, Worcester | on May 6th, 2020 | Permanent link | No Comments »

COVID and Kids (508 #366 w/Audrey Smolkin)

posted by Mike on April 21st, 2020

508 is a show about Worcester. This week, we talk about school and childhood trauma in this time of pandemic with Audrey Smolkin, Director of Child and Family Policy at UMass Medical School, and Tracy Novick, Worcester School Committee member.


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posted by Mike in 508: A Show about Worcester, Worcester | on April 21st, 2020 | Permanent link | No Comments »

COVID 1138 (508 #365)

posted by Mike on April 3rd, 2020

508 is a show about Worcester. This week, we talk about the ongoing pandemic with Worcester City Clerk Nikolin Vangjeli and Worcester School Committee member (and COVID-19 sufferer) Tracy Novick.


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posted by Mike in 508: A Show about Worcester, Worcester | on April 3rd, 2020 | Permanent link | No Comments »