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Every Day Catholic - February 2011

Every Day Catholic uses an engaging and practical approach to help readers confidently apply Christian values to their everyday decisions. Great for group or individual study, and FREE online discussion guides are available for each issue. Get more information and order here.

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Lent—Have You Given Up on Giving Up?
By: Susan Vogt

A year ago, I was facing Lent—again. I was ready to repeat the routine of what I usually do for Lent: no sweets or complaining, extra prayer, and the usual fasting and abstinence. I realized, though, that I wasn’t growing or being challenged. I decided to find a practice that would remind me daily of this penitential season and join me to Jesus’ sacrifice of his life for others.

What if I gave away one thing a day for the 40 days of Lent? I wanted to live a simpler lifestyle both for spiritual reasons—“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic’” (Luke 9:3)—and also to declutter my life.

I decided to take this on as a challenge and a sacrifice—hoping it would clean out not only my closets, but also my heart and soul. This kind of sacrifice may not appeal to—or be appropriate for—everyone, but it may prompt you to consider what you can give up for Lent that will make more of a difference than losing a few pounds.
 
The plan

I started my Lenten giveaway with shoes. I thought this would be easy since I’m not a big collector of shoes—or so I thought. According to Soles4Souls (www.soles4souls.org), the average American owns 13 pairs of shoes. I figured I was under that and could go lower. Wrong. When I added up all my shoes (including slippers and boots), it came to 30 pairs. I was horrified! I pruned it down to 13, but I’m not happy about being average.

I moved on to clothes. I had many clothes that I seldom wear now that I work at home. I discovered that I had enough extras to give more than one thing away a day and could go by categories.

I started with the letter S—shirts, skirts, suits, slacks, sweaters and scarves—and gathered up all the old-fashioned, in need of repair or makes-me-look-fat clothes. I pulled out about seven extra items for each “S” and created breathing room in my closet. I was feeling pretty good about this pruning but ran into a problem.
 
What do I do with all this stuff?

At first I just collected my intended giveaways in a corner. It didn’t make sense to drive to St. Vincent de Paul every day. But then my stuff started overflowing and getting in the way.

In addition to giving things to charities, neighbors and friends, I discovered Freecycle (www.freecycle.org) and Vietnam Veterans of America (www.pickupsforvets.org) who pick up at your home. My most satisfying experience, however, was trying to get rid of an adult potty seat, the one item not claimed in my “Free Yard Sale.” A woman going to visit an elderly neighbor saw the seat and said, “The lady I’m visiting could use that!” She picked it up and went on her happy way.
 
The results

Hardest thing to give away: Privacy and time. We agreed to have a homeless family live with us while they were in crisis. It was a leap of faith since we weren’t sure if the weeks would merge into months.


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Most unusual item: Dead pet paraphernalia. I cleared out all the cages and supplies from pets that had died years ago.

Most awkward experience: Birdie’s supper. On Holy Thursday, I delivered a meal to a frail member of our parish whom I barely knew. It seemed fitting for this day, but I feared she might consider it condescending.

Most humbling: Going to Penance and giving away my sins.
 
What’s this got to do with Lent and spirituality?

I harkened back to my early religious education, remembering that Sunday isn’t an official day of Lent. It’s a day of rest and rejoicing, not penance. I decided not to give away anything on Sundays, but rather to use the time to ponder how this experience was changing me: Was I becoming less attached? Was it a holy sacrifice or simply a way to clean my house?

Just as Jesus was stripped of his clothes before his crucifixion, I found myself stripping away excess clothes and household items to focus on what’s most important in life: being generous, not being full of myself, caring for those in need.

Sometimes it was hard to give away an item because of sentimental attachment or the thought that one of our kids might want it someday. One of my blog readers helped by suggesting I take a photo of trophies or memorabilia. Another reader reminded me that, while I’m waiting for a grandchild to grow into a snowsuit, another child might be shivering right now.
 
How has it changed me?

Although I haven’t reached a state of total detachment and humility, I did stretch myself to think daily about the abundance I already have rather than what I lack. I’m more aware of how to share what I have with others—even if it pinches. I remind myself that my importance or value isn’t dependent on what I own. I feel more solidarity with those who are economically poor.

I now shop differently. When tempted to buy something because it’s such a bargain, I consider: Do I really need this? Is it something I will eventually give away? Is there someone I can buy it for who needs it more than I do?
 
The future

As a result of giving stuff away for 40 days, I gained a new habit and attitude, and decided to extend this commitment for a full year. Lent was a good way to jump-start the process. All of this leads very naturally to the final time of letting go—the time of our deaths. Just as Jesus sacrificed himself for us on the cross, so can I sacrifice some of my time, goods, money and way of doing things—for others.

Remember, eventually we’ll all return to dust. The stuff of our lives just collects dust and makes it harder to let go for that final journey.


Permission to Publish received for this article, “Lent—Have You Given Up on Giving Up?” by Susan Vogt, from Rev. Joseph R. Binzer, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Cincinnati, 10-14-2010.

Susan Vogt is a freelance speaker and writer on marriage, parenting and spirituality. See her blog, “Letting Go of Stuff,” at www.SusanVogt.net/blog for a day-by-day account of her giveaways.

Making Connections

■ What Lenten sacrifice(s) do you usually make?

■ How sincere have your Lenten resolutions and sacrifices been in the past? How can your practices this Lent be even more meaningful?

■ What one sacrifice will you make this Lent that will help you to focus on the more important things in life?



Movie Moments

Brother Sun, Sister Moon
By: Frank Frost

Susan Vogt’s essay brings to mind the movie Brother Sun, Sister Moon. This romanticized retelling of St. Francis of Assisi’s story by Franco Zeffirelli (Jesus of Nazareth) reminds us of the depth of the Christian tradition of “giving away.”

When Francis (Graham Faulkner) arrives home injured from war, he falls into a deep funk. But he awakens to happiness and purpose through new awareness of nature. The sense of freedom this brings transitions into a rejection of the treasures his father (Lee Montague) has built up and wants to pass on to Francis.

It’s not long before Francis starts “giving away” his father’s large store of rich cloth, tossing bolts of it out a tower window to the poor gathering on the cobblestones below. Confronted by his father, Francis is unrepentant, urging him to see that “our treasures are in heaven.” His enraged father drags Francis before the local bishop. There follows the ultimate “giving away” scene when Francis strips off his clothes, returns them to his father and assumes the life of a beggar.

The rest of the movie tells the story of Francis and the companions who join him as they live the life of radical poverty they idealize. Not only is it beyond the capacity of some, but it also invites attacks by others and is seen as counter to the current Church culture. Francis ends up explaining himself to the pope (Alec Guinness), claiming he is only trying to live the Gospel: “Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap or store in barns, but our heavenly Father feeds them” (see Matthew 6:26).

Not all of us can live the radical simplicity accepted by Francis, but “giving away” for Lent can be a practical and modest beginning.


Next time you watch Brother Sun, Sister Moon, ASK YOURSELF:

■ Francis descends into the metaphorical hell of the wool-dyers’ cellar. Why is this scene a key to his change of life? How does it broaden his perspective beyond his own happiness and love of nature?

■ Does the speech Francis gives the pope make sense in the real world?



Putting Shoes on the Gospel

Clark Massey
By: Joan McKamey

Ask any group of Catholics, “Who wants to help the poor?” and most will raise their hands. But the number of hands remaining if asked about serving the poor by living among them will likely be far fewer.

Clark Massey keeps his hand held high. He says, “I like the poor. They’re often more in touch with God and the real issues of life. Desperation is an interesting school of faith.”

Clark lives in one of the poorest areas of Washington, D.C. How did this 32-year-old with degrees in math, economics and finance come to make his home there? By responding to God’s call. He tells Every Day Catholic, “I felt called to get to know the poor. If there was an evangelization field for me, that’s where I really wanted to be. I don’t ‘love’ the poor because they need me. I like and love individuals who are poor. This love is personal.”

Clark founded A Simple House in late 2004 after working and living in a homeless shelter in Washington. “The way this homeless shelter was being run was very ‘with the poor,’ ministering in a friendship kind of way. I wanted to go where I didn’t see people going to help—into the projects—to meet some of the single moms and see what the situation is there,” he says.

Full-time Simple House volunteers live together in voluntary poverty, receiving basic room and board, health insurance and a $200 monthly stipend. There are currently two houses in Washington and one in Kansas City, Missouri. The ministry is supported by private donations.

What was Clark’s own most difficult sacrifice, and what has he learned from making sacrifices for this ministry? Clark says, “Christian life is like playing poker. Each round you’re asked to ante all your chips; you have to go all-in. I really liked my motorcycle, but every dime was needed to start the ministry. I couldn’t hold the motorcycle out of the deal.

“Sacrificing teaches you about yourself. It’s only through self-denial, mortification and asceticism that we learn about what we really need. Some people need to sacrifice things to prove they don’t need them. I once tried the opposite approach: Give everything away and only buy things that you find you need. I found out that you really need a shower curtain, but you don’t need much kitchen stuff or furniture if you live alone.”

Comparing his satisfaction now to his past when he lived a more comfortable lifestyle, Clark says, “I’m happy. I feel relief. I don’t have vague feelings of being in the wrong place. I look around at our cold house, basic food and patched-together belongings, and I think it’s odd how often we laugh and joke.

“There’s something about doing without which makes you appreciate what you have. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich after a hike tastes better than a steak after a day of watching TV. We fast so that we can feast.”

Learn more about A Simple House at www.asimplehouse.org.



Passing On the Faith

Keeping Lent
By: Jeanne Hunt

Scenario

Anna loves to create celebrations around seasonal events. It’s wonderful to watch the kids get into the spirit. Sipping her coffee one February morning, she thinks of the upcoming fun holidays: St. Valentine’s Day, Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day and, of course, Easter.

She suddenly feels guilty about avoiding keeping Lent. Ash Wednesday is coming soon, and the family should do something, but all that sadness and fasting is a real downer.  
 
A Response

We live in a secular culture that focuses on feeling good. We see celebrations as breaks from the work of making a living and family responsibilities. It’s no wonder that Lent isn’t very popular. Parents, however, must teach their children the full message of discipleship: It’s necessary to “deny yourself and take up your cross” in order to walk with Jesus.

Keeping Lent doesn’t need to be painful. Family projects can turn the words of Scripture into experiences that bring the season of penance into focus. Here are a few favorites: 

• On Ash Wednesday, line an Easter basket with plastic and fill it with potting soil. Plant grass seed in the basket and water it. Talk about the lifeless appearance of dirt without seeds and water. When we add the seeds of faith and the water of Baptism, we’re filled with God’s life. On Easter, fill your live Easter basket with eggs. 

• Put a canning jar on the kitchen table. Decide upon a family Lenten task (e.g., no complaining, no bad language, no fighting). Whenever a family member breaks the Lenten task, he or she must put a quarter in the jar. The money can be given to a local charity or the parish Sunday collection. 

• Plan a family night at a soup kitchen or parish outreach event. After the service, have a family discussion about the experience and why giving of time and talent is so important in our Christian lives.

Carlos, Anna and the children gave Lent a new place in their family calendar. Anna turned her energy to spiritual rather than secular celebrations. The family tried some new activities that made Lent a cherished memory. Holy Week, the parish Reconciliation service and the Easter Fire on Holy Saturday brought them far more inspiration than Valentines or shamrocks ever could.

Anna thinks to herself, Lent wasn’t painful at all. In fact, watching Carlos fill up that jar with quarters was great fun.



Prayer

Ash Wednesday Vespers
By: Jeanne Hunt

Preparation: Place a purple cloth and a bowl of dirt or ashes on a prayer table. Have a small scoop and a small plastic bag for each participant nearby.

OPENING SONG

“Ashes” (or similar hymn)

OPENING PRAYER

Let us proclaim a fast, O God. May we look into the heart of the matter and see our sins. Give us the grace to ask the real questions of our failures without excuses or blindness. Fill us with the strength to walk into the desert of our weakness and surrender to your truth. Amen.

SCRIPTURE

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

RITUAL

Sit in the darkness and ask those present to think about their most hidden sins. (Pause for at least two minutes.) Then ask each person to think of one thing he or she can do to change or heal those failures to love. (Pause again for two minutes.) Now invite each person to come forward, take a scoop of dirt/ashes and put it in a small plastic bag. Ask those present to keep their bags with them every day of Lent as a reminder of their decisions to change their hearts and keep a fast pleasing to the Lord.

FINAL BLESSING

May the Father protect us from evil. May the Son lead us to the cross. And may the Spirit give us strength for the journey of Lent. Amen.




Giles: Despite the fact that much about St. Giles is shrouded in mystery, we can say that he was one of the most popular saints in the Middle Ages. Likely, he was born in the first half of the seventh century in southeastern France. That is where he built a monastery that became a popular stopping-off point for pilgrims making their way to Compostela in Spain and the Holy Land.<br /><br />In England, many ancient churches and hospitals were dedicated to Giles. One of the sections of the city of Brussels is named after him. In Germany, Giles was included among the so-called 14 Holy Helpers, a popular group of saints to whom people prayed, especially for recovery from disease and for strength at the hour of death. Also among the 14 were Sts. Christopher, Barbara and Blaise. Interestingly, Giles was the only non-martyr among them. Devotion to the "Holy Helpers" was especially strong in parts of Germany and in Hungary and Sweden. Such devotion made his popularity spread. Giles was soon invoked as the patron of the poor and the disabled.<br /><br />The pilgrimage center that once drew so many fell into disrepair some centuries after Giles' death. American Catholic Blog The ascension is about the final reunion of what appeared to be separated for a while: earth and heaven, human and divine, matter and Spirit. If the Christ is the archetype of the full human journey, now we know how it all resolves itself in the end. “So that where I am, you also will be” (John 14:3).

 
PICKS OF THE WEEK
Spiritual Questions, Catholic Advice

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A Wild Ride

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CATHOLIC GREETINGS
Labor Day (U.S.)
As we thank God for the blessing of work we also pray for those less fortunate than ourselves.
Ordination
Remember to pray for the Church, especially for those who have been ordained to the priesthood.
Friends
Reconnect with your BFF. Send an e-card to arrange a meal together.
Labor Day
As we thank God for the blessing of work we also pray for those less fortunate than ourselves.
St. Augustine
Catholic Greetings e-cards remind us to explore the lives of our Catholic heroes, the saints.



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