remember that you are dust…

My Lenten resolution this year is to rise above the doom and gloom and have a ‘happy’ Lent. Yet here we are on Ash Wednesday, being reminded of our mortality. We are signed with ashes and the words Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. The gentler version intones Repent, and believe in the Gospel. A nice thought, but it lacks the spiritual kick in the rear-end of the former.

Our society is programmed into avoiding thoughts of death. Funeral parlors now handle the messiness of dying and grieving for us. We forget that the process of letting go of a loved one doesn’t end when the funeral lunch is cleared away. Last Sunday, I greeted a man in our parish that lost his wife several months ago. “How are you doing, E—?”, I asked. He answered, “I’m doing it alone. It’s really hard after 47 years together.” With those words, he invited me to share his grief. He reminded me that his grief needed to be shared and not forgotten.

St. Benedict wanted his monks to daily keep death before their eyes. It seems such a morbid practice. But, speak to anyone who has faced and escaped death and they will tell you of a renewed appreciation for life. Keeping death before your eyes helps put the pettiness into perspective. It encourages you to revisit your own “bucket list”, those things that you want to do before you leave this world. These aren’t so much the grand gestures or great adventures, but the more simple “how do I want to be remembered?” Usually the doing won’t be remembered as much as the loving.

Over at the Prairie Messenger, staff and readers are mourning the loss of a great Catholic voice here on the Canadian prairies. Fr. Andrew Britz, OSB, was the editor of the PM from 1983-2004. He fearlessly challenged the Church and each of us to keep the spirit of Vatican II alive. The newspaper he led became known for allowing all voices to be heard in a true spirit of catholicity.

Maureen Weber, associate editor, wrote a tribute to the man who was both long-time friend and mentor to her. She describes well the paradox of death to persons of faith,

Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago, one of Rev. Andrew Britz’s heroes, once said, “We can look at death as an enemy or a friend. If we see it as an enemy, death causes anxiety and fear. We tend to go into a state of denial. But if we see it as a friend, our attitude is truly different. As a person of faith, I see death as a friend, as the transition from earthly life to life eternal.”

When we lose someone, though, death is seen as a thief, not a friend. My friend Andrew Britz, OSB, died Feb. 14. A man of great faith, Andrew viewed death as a friend. But we were robbed. read more


happy lent!

Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. Today, a friend wished me a Happy Lent! I chuckled at the oxymoron. Isn’t Lent all about sack-cloth and ashes, fasting, giving up pleasurable tastes and treats, and focusing on the poor and needy in our world? Hardly stuff to be happy about.

But, I really do need a happy Lent. I need to focus on the proverbial half full glass instead of wallowing in the half-empty shallowness. I’m tired of reading about the unbelievable stupidity coming from some of our political and church leaders. I’m even more tired of the same ranting voices on discussion boards; voices that loudly promote their own narrow views, refusing to listen to the other. The focuses on issues that have little connection with real life, but much to say about power struggles are dragging me down. The loud railing against the so-called ‘culture wars’ and anti-Catholic persecutions in North America are not firing up my Catholic soul and readying me for a righteous battle. They are making me want to hide in a quiet corner until the kaka clears.

The following words are in today’s Psalm reading, (Psalm 55),

If only I had wings like a dove that I might fly away and find rest. Far away I would flee; I would stay in the desert.

Ah, the classic Lenten image of a desert. A harsh place, yes. But also a place of solitude and deep silence. A place of vast horizons of sameness, forcing you to spend time in what can be the harshest and most challenging of places – your own interior life. Forcing you to be still. To listen. To seek the wisdom within.

Of course, I can’t escape the late winter prairies to go tenting in the desert for forty days. But, I know that I can be more intentional in seeking the silence. I know what I need to turn off and when. I know how I can carve out time in my day to be still, and know better our God.

This is my Lenten resolution. This, and a commitment to put rants aside for a while. This doesn’t mean embracing a Pollyanna existence, closing my eyes to hide the darkness. I don’t trust the perpetually optimistic if the optimism comes from a place of denial or refusal to face reality. But, I do find energy in those who, in the midst of struggles and despair, can see the face of hope. Can be the face of hope to those around them.

I’m still not sure what a happy Lent will look like. But, I’m willing to give it a try. And, of course, I’ll use this blog to help map out the journey; hoping that others will add their wisdom along the way!