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 »

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.

Lenten gameplan, 2018

posted by Mike on February 14th, 2018

A: As Lent approaches, I am both grateful that Facebook remains the *perfect* thing to “give up,” as well as a bit concerned that what with recent Facebook timeline tweaks making it more boring, the time may soon come when giving up Facebook is as blah as giving up LinkedIn. Maybe we didn’t know how good we had it…

B: Resources. Do I want to waste either of our time pointing you to some good resources? If there’s one thing our cup overfloweth with in 2018, it is resources.

C: Elizabeth Bruenig at Harvard Feb 20: “Religion, Politics, and the Left.” The last time both Bruenigs spoke at Harvard it was not only a great lecture it drew a really fun crowd. Let’s rideshare to this Liz-only talk Worcester buds. (In her last talk she did say of the Catholic Worker movement, “While it was flourishing, it was pretty impressive.” We will overlook that.)

D: Discouraging pope news of the season. Part 1: “Despite denial, Pope Francis got Chilean abuse victim’s letter.” (But see also “Reactions after Pope Francis’s decision to send a top prosecutor to Chile.”) Part 2: “Vatican Sells Out Chinese Catacombers.” (But see also “Why the Vatican’s potential deal with China is a good thing” and John Allen’s “Explaining why the Vatican seems so eager for a deal with China.”)

posted by Mike in Items, Lent | on February 14th, 2018 | Permanent Link to “Lenten gameplan, 2018” | No Comments »

Ash Wednesday

posted by Mike on February 18th, 2015

“The love of God breaks through that fatal withdrawal into ourselves which is indifference.” —Pope Francis


Lent: A time of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and projects.

Project #1: What are you giving up for Lent this year?

This year I’m keeping it simple: no coffee.

Project #2: What extra meditations are you adding to your life this season?

I’m keeping it simpler than other years, but still a bit complicated. Inspired by Rod Dreher, and with the support of my Dante book club, I’ll be reading the Purgatorio (Divine Comedy, Part II).

Assuming all of the above goes according to plan, it should be a successful Lent. For those looking for more resources, Susan Stabile always posts great stuff. I am going to fight the temptation to browse these resources when I should be reading Dante. I will especially avoid spending too much time thinking about Forty for 40: A Literary Reader for Lent.

Beginning the journey through Purgatory: Gustav Doré’s “Dante Kneeling Before Cato”

posted by Mike in Lent, Orthodoxy | on February 18th, 2015 | Permanent Link to “Ash Wednesday” | No Comments »

Lent approaches

posted by Mike on March 4th, 2014

This year, it is back to basics. I am keeping things simple for Lent.

  • Fasting: Facebook still seems like the perfect thing to “give up.” As a vegan, I’ll be skipping an extra meal on Fridays rather than fasting from meat.
  • Prayer: Give Us This Day is still my go-to prayer book. Susan Stabile has a good roundup of other resources.
  • Almsgiving: MINE OWN BEESWAX again this year.

I hope everyone reading this has a powerful Lenten season. If you’re curious about Lent but not religious, I’ll point you to Jacob’s essay on the topic.

posted by Mike in Lent | on March 4th, 2014 | Permanent Link to “Lent approaches” | No Comments »

Palm Sunday, 2013

posted by Mike on March 24th, 2013


The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
–Isaiah 50:4

Palm Sunday mass is complicated for a lector. Not only is there an initial entrance into the church with blessed palms, but the Gospel is read like a play, with parts played by the priest, various deacons and lectors, sometimes people selected from the congregation, and even the congregation itself (roaring “Crucify him! Crucify him!”).

When I was first learning to be a lector as a teen, Palm Sunday was my trial by fire. Fr. Ed Bell gave constant feedback in the form of smiles and dirty looks. He always presided over a great mass, and I think his priority was never individual excellence or self-expression, but universal competence. If the details are attended to, the mass will be not only worshipful but nourishing to the heart.

I was a lector tonight at St. Peter’s, and it went great. I appreciated that Deacon Reisinger, in his homily, drew out one of the lessons of Easter, that “hope springs forth,” and connected it to the wonderful event of the election of Pope Francis.

Read the rest of this entry »

posted by Mike in Lent, Worcester | on March 24th, 2013 | Permanent Link to “Palm Sunday, 2013” | No Comments »

Panhandling protest: the negative reactions

posted by Mike on February 14th, 2013


City Councilor Konnie Lukes, in Worcester Magazine:

It was clearly a publicity stunt geared to embarrass police and the city. I’ll leave it to [the police department’s] judgment as to how they handle it.

Police Chief Gemme:

We were made aware that there would be a peaceful protest focusing on poverty and the panhandling ordinance. Based on the communication that we received from Saint Francis & Therese Catholic Worker, we know that the protesters are well aware of the ordinance and we gave them latitude to peacefully conduct their protest.

Our approach to panhandling has been stated publicly. Our focus has been on education and gaining voluntary compliance. If enforcement action is necessary, we will take it . . . But we will not make arrests for the sake of making arrests.

Today, between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM there were 21 calls for service throughout the city. None of these calls were regarding panhandling. During this time period, we directed our limited resources where they were most needed. We used discretion to monitor the protest, and our decisions were made in the best interest of the entire community.

As much as I’d like to quibble with these words, I’m not going to do that, because the upshot of the city’s actions is so interesting.
Read the rest of this entry »

No arrests in Worcester panhandling civil disobedience

posted by Mike on February 13th, 2013

In an act of civil disobedience against Worcester’s new anti-panhandling ordinances, three Worcester residents today begged for money on the median in Lincoln Square, directly across from police headquarters. The event was held on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which Christians mark with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.


Gordon Davis, a blind anti-discrimination advocate, held a bucket reading BLIND and represented the disabled. Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, a Catholic Worker who has housed the homeless in Worcester for decades, was dressed as St. Francis, himself a beggar. Robert Peters, a long-time Buddhist meditator, dressed in the robes he wears as a lay Buddhist.



At least four people called the police to complain. According to the supporters demonstrating legally on the nearby sidewalk, the only police response was one officer giving the thumbs-up when he drove by.

In a statement, Chief Gemme said that “Today, between 1 and 2 p.m. there were 21 calls for service throughout the city. None of these calls were regarding panhandling.” (I’m not sure what the difference is between a call for service and these calls. Maybe there were 21 911 issues?)


None of the beggars was arrested, cited, or warned. “This is a victory for Worcester,” said Schaeffer-Duffy.

Womag has more pix. The T&G reports “$14.68 collected,” all of which will go directly to those in need.

What did we give up before Facebook?

posted by Mike on February 13th, 2013

Facebook is a great thing to “give up” for Lent. It’s not the worst thing I can do with my time, but the line between “connecting with friends” and “spending an hour clicking aimlessly” is easily crossed.

Back when I was a big TV watcher, giving up TV for Lent always seemed like a good idea, but not a very practical one. Even if the time I spent with my family in front of the tube was not “quality time,” it was still a social activity and a shared experience.

Both TV watching and Facebook are strange in that from one angle they’re very solitary, and from another communal. At its worst, watching TV lets strangers program my brain as I sit staring; Facebook, at its worst, is an exercise in narcissism.

So since I always feel like “I should spend less time on Facebook,” and since I have no lack of other ways of catching up with folks, I’m giving up Facebook again this year, and replacing some of that newly-freed time with morning and evening prayer. I’ll be on the road a lot of Lent, so I’m putting off deciding what to give up on Fridays in lieu of meat—I’ll try various dietary experiments and see how they go.