Lenten Gameplan, 2022

posted by Mike on March 2nd, 2022

I must be in an ascetic mood, because it doesn’t feel like “giving things up” for Lent will be much of a challenge this year.

Time was, giving up Facebook, or the radio, or coffee, felt like a real sacrifice. But this time around, as I wonder “Should I give this thing up?” that thing transforms into a burden in my mind, a burden it would be slightly painful to set down but which pretty quickly I would be glad to have cast off.

So I’m going to give up a whole slew of things this year, things I do to distract myself or pass the time but which I don’t really enjoy. There are a lot of those things! To keep the Lenten gameplan simple, all I’m going to commit to do with the resulting free time is pray a bit more than usual. My guide will be Bishop Robert Barron’s 2022 book of Lenten reflections.

In this post Zvi Mowshowitz breaks down “the sabbath” in a detailed (and secular) way I find inspiring. It’s helping me clarify my thoughts as I make my list of sacrifices.

This Lent will be a stressful one. The Pope has called for Ash Wednesday to be a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine. “It is a day to be close to the suffering of the Ukrainian people, to be aware that we are all brothers and sisters, and to implore God for an end to the war.”

Update: From River Sims’s Ash Wednesday message:

Dorothy Day once said in the midst of society’s fear of atomic bombs and concern over the war in Vietnam: “Go clean the toilets, and worry about the rest later.” Focus upon the need in front of your eyes, about which you can do something.

This Lent our focus is on our “flock” on the street, and my on inward remembering that “I am dust, and to dust, I shall return.”

It was suggested to use the word “stardust”, in administering ashes, and my answer: “We are going to die, we are mortal, and stardust takes way from the reality of dying.”

This morning, as I moved up the street placing ashes upon people sleeping in the doorways I received no harsh remarks, and approximately twenty-five out of fifty, were grateful.

For the first time, I did not wear a collar, a stole, a habit, and so in approaching each one they saw me simply as “River”, not the Church, from whom many have been rejected and hurt.

This afternoon I will be on the Haight and wearing my “normal” clothes, and while very few will receive ashes, again it will be just me talking and giving them food. I have some bracelets my friend Cindy has given us, with a little cross and color beads, and each one loves them.

Image: Detail from Pieter Bruegel’s The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, 1559.

posted by Mike in Lent | on March 2nd, 2022 | Permanent Link to “Lenten Gameplan, 2022” | No Comments »

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 to “Lenten Gameplan, 2021” | 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.

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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Compline Prayers for this Time of Seclusion

posted by Mike on March 25th, 2020

Here is a PDF of Compline, the Night Prayer.

We’ve been praying this at home each night before some of us go to bed. (Others are night owls.)

This is formatted for people who’ve never prayed Compline before, and so that each day will fit on a double-sided sheet of standard letter-sized paper.

If you haven’t prayed this before, every night of the week is slightly different. You might want to light a candle, burn some incense, or otherwise set the mood before you begin. The leader reads everything in regular text. Another person reads everything in italics. The whole group reads everything in bold. Hymns are included, but you can choose another as you like. If you don’t know the “Salve Regina” another Marian hymn would be appropriate, like “Hail Holy Queen, Enthroned Above.”

If you’ve prayed this before, you’ll notice that some things are edited down a bit, so that everything will fit on a page while still being readable by those of average vision. You’ll also notice the “Salve Regina” uses a rogue form of musical notation. We use these sheets at our local soup kitchen, and the details have evolved over the years. Some weeks we are joined by people who can sight-read music, but not Gregorian notation. Whereas I don’t think there’s anyone who can sight-read Gregorian notation who doesn’t already know the “Salve Regina.”

Franz Jägerstätter shirts

posted by Mike on December 6th, 2019

I’m collaborating on some t-shirts celebrating the martyr Franz Jägerstätter, a farmer from Sankt Radegund, Austria, who was beheaded for refusing to fight for the Nazis. Here’s the first version of the shirt.

Blessed Franz has long been an interest and celebrated on this blog down through the years.

The great Terrence Malick has a movie about him coming out next week. Till then, enjoy an Austrian TV movie on his life from the early 1970s:

Short film about Net of Compassion: “Bread of Life”

posted by Mike on November 13th, 2019

Here’s some beautiful people and a tough side of the city.

Net of Compassion – Bread of Life from Votary Films on Vimeo.

Richie, Elizabeth, and their whole “Net of Compassion” crew do some amazing work, most visibly offering services in a series of tents along Worcester’s Main Street each Saturday. They also collaborate on “Hotel Grace,” turning the basement of St. John’s Church into a 50-bed homeless shelter any night the temperature in Worcester is expected to drop below freezing. And they are looking to do more. If you are curious about helping the down-and-out in our city, getting involved with Net of Compassion is a great way to start.

Bob Waldrop, 1952-2019

posted by Mike on September 9th, 2019

Bob Waldrop“We will not damn our souls to hell to satisfy corrupt politicians.”

Legendary Oklahoma Catholic Worker (and friend of this blog) Bob Waldrop has died at 67.

The Oklahoman:

Bob was buried in his overalls.

Hundreds of mourners gathered Saturday at Epiphany of the Lord Catholic Church in Oklahoma City for the funeral Mass of Robert Max Augustine Waldrop, who served as the church’s director of music and liturgy, was a champion of the poor and started the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House.

Michael True, 1933-2019, RIP

posted by Mike on May 1st, 2019

Michael True, Worcester activist, writer, and educator, has died. His intelligence, diligence, generosity, and kindness will not be forgotten by those who knew him.

His funeral and burial will be in Minnesota. There will be a celebration of his life in Worcester June 1 at Mechanics Hall.
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Lenten Gameplan, 2019

posted by Mike on March 6th, 2019

Fasting: At last, Facebook has become a miserable enough experience that it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to give it up. So the likely candidates this year are the old classics: giving up (some) sugar, giving up caffeine, and so on. There are so many fasting fads these days, I might play around with a few, more out of curiosity than spiritual discipline.

Prayer: This year, for the first time in a long time, I’m already doing plenty of praying by myself and with my various communities. My plan is to maintain these, in Lenten form, but not add much extra work.

Reading List: Kugel’s How to Read the Bible (because why not provoke a crisis of faith during Lent?), Hart’s weird New Testament translation (at least the Gospel of John, more if it seems helpful), the Catechism (spread out at around 20 pages per Lenten day, stopping at the nearest chapter/article/section break), and Dorothy Day’s diaries (stopping each day when I’m as inspired or discouraged as I need to be). Lent is 6½ weeks, so that feels like plenty of reading to me. (Looking at the stack, I notice that a bonus Lenten sacrifice may end up being “carrying heavy books.”) In the unlikely event I need to fill more time with reading, I have ebooks of St. Thérèse, Girard’s I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, Spitzer’s How to Find True Happiness, and Pilgrim’s Progress at hand. This might be the perfect Lent to include some books or films on clergy sex abuse, but I am already reading tons on that, believe me.

Scent List: Zoologist’s perfume “Bat,” which Luca Turin observes is built around geosmin, the chemical odor of wet dirt and beets. Maybe the closest thing you’re going to get to ashes, but not incense-y, but not bad. Really only something I’m using on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Lent is not a self-help guide, but about entering Paschal Mystery:

The purpose of Lent, therefore, is a microcosm of the life and worldview of the Christian believer. Knowing themselves to be the sons and daughters of the Resurrection, everything they think, feel, and do is placed in the light and hope of eternity. This gives the disciple of Jesus Christ the strength to forgive an enemy, control their sexual passions, suffer patiently, and selflessly serve others. When the Resurrection is lived and heaven is seen as a real possibility for the righteous, then everything is worth it and everything becomes ordered to it.