struggling with sin

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Ash Wednesday is here and I’m struggling with sin. My sin.

Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me. For I acknowledge my offence, and my sin is before me always. Psalm 51

What’s the big sin in my life? I don’t think I have one! I know…I obviously suffer from the sin of pride and should immediately trot off to the nearest confessional. But, after a life time of catholic guilt, breast-beating and scrupulous fears of hell, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not a bad person. I’m not perfect, but “sinner” isn’t my main identifier.  I’m a person trying her best to be good. I’ve done nothing evil enough to warrant me parading through the streets in sackcloth and ashes.

It has been the role of the church for centuries to convince us that we are all grave sinners on a fast-track to hell. Instilling fear and remorse into her people ensured full pews and full coffers. Who knows how much irreparable harm has been done on minds, hearts, and souls through the years? How much continues today?

So, I struggle with the call to show outward signs for inner mea culpas that simply aren’t there. My days are filled with what we used to call “venial” sins, but aren’t these simply the stuff of our too human nature? Yes, I try each day to be a bit more patient and swear a little less, but I don’t go to bed worrying that an F-bomb has consigned me to the fires of hell. What does keep me up at night are the sins of this world and those who hold the greatest power over life and death.

Why should I fast, or cover my head with ashes for my misdemeanours, when the headlines each day uncover more injustices towards God’s people? More sexual and physical violence? More refugees forced from their homes and refused sanctuary elsewhere? More rich politicians who deliberately rob the poor to fill their own bulging pockets? More “in your face” white supremacy, hatred, misogyny, homophobia and racism? More threats of nuclear war by inept, egotistical leaders who get in pissing matches with each other?

For what do I fast and pray? Perhaps this is the answer…

For the sins of our world, and all who suffer directly from them.

For peace and justice in all our lands.

For peace in our hearts.

And to constantly seek ways to DO good, not just be good.

Amen.

ashes and valentine hearts

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Good Catholics are facing a holiday dilemma this year. Ash Wednesday falls on February 14th.  Feasting or fasting? Chocolate hearts and flowers or solemn ashes?

Some bishops are taking the question very seriously, reminding their parishioners that our faith and liturgical responsibilities always trump secular holidays. A popular “go-around” solution is for Catholics to celebrate Valentine’s Day on Tuesday, the traditional “Mardi Gras” pre-Lenten celebration.

Last year, it was the great St. Patrick’s Day question. The great Irish saint’s feast day fell on a Friday in Lent, traditionally a meatless day. Would our souls face immortal danger if we ate corned beef on a Lenten Friday? Again, thank God for bishops who tell us what to do, or who set our minds and consciences at ease with a formal dispensation.

Yes, I’m being snarky! Call it old age. Call it fed up with being told what to do over these many years.

Call it a bad attitude from a not always good Catholic.

To clarify, I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day. For all its talk about freedom from the constraints of religious belief, society can be as bossy about its secular holidays as the church is about her sacred ones. We are bombarded with marketing, weeks and months before the holiday. Pressure is put on couples to over-spend on bad chocolates in fancy boxes, over-priced flowers, and expensive dinners.

Valentine’s Day is one more holiday to emphasize the loneliness of those who yearn for a relationship, have been hurt by love, or have lost their loved one.

Charlie Brown epitomizes the darker side of Valentine’s Day, and yet schools continue traditions that reward popularity, adding to children’s existing insecurities whether in grade school or high school.

Love is a good thing. It’s the summation of Jesus’s teaching. It IS the gospel message. It gives purpose to our lives, and is balm to our world.

But, don’t tell me how and when I must celebrate love.

For me, there’s no doctrinal conundrum over Ash Wednesday vs Valentine’s Day. After 59 years, my faith is no longer ruled by man-made regulations. After 36 1/2 years of marriage and 35 years of parenting,  love means more to me than roses and chocolates.

May we all celebrate the love in our lives. In its many forms. With gratitude. Each and every day.

(See also: Corned beef dispensations. Seriously! )

Finding the meaning of Ash Wednesday in a darkened movie theater | National Catholic Reporter

Finding the meaning of Ash Wednesday in a darkened movie theater | National Catholic Reporter.

Jamie L. Manson has done it again – bravely sharing from the deep, dark places of the heart. Her latest column describes her frustration in the past weeks fighting the contraception issue in the US. In her fatigue, she first forgot about Ash Wednesday then intentionally refused to participate in the distribution of Ashes.

I had a similar experience, many years ago. A dark time in our local church coincided with the Lenten season. How I struggled to attend the requisite services – more for the sake of our children than mine. I know how difficult, how impossible, it can be to walk through the doors of the church when the hurt is raw. When the anger is fresh.  I didn’t need ashes strewn across my forehead to remind me of suffering.

I hope that many will read Jamie’s powerful and honest reflection. Perhaps you, too, can relate. It is also a reminder for us all not to judge those who are missing from the pews. Don’t assume that absence connotes a ‘bad’ or ‘fallen away’ Catholic. Absence can be a survival technique for those who truly love the Church, but need an intentional time of exile.