by Father Mark Goldasich
When Lent begins each year, I remember a great cartoon I once saw.
In the first panel, a speaker addresses a crowd saying, “Who wants change?” The second panel shows all the listeners enthusiastically raising their hands.
Panel three has the speaker saying, “OK, who wants to change?”
The last panel shows not one hand raised.
That, sadly, could be my Lenten story. Honestly, I see the need for change in my life. And generally, I start off the season at full steam and filled with commitment.
Then, just a day after an Ash Wednesday filled with good intentions, come a few weeks of scattered Lenten practices, only to find me limping into Holy Week and Easter.
This year, I sat down and sketched out what I wanted my Lent 2020 to look like. In no time at all, I came up with 10 “disciplines.” They are: write two notes of thanks or encouragement to someone each day; do a Holy Hour (on Lenten Mondays when there’s adoration at the parish); read one spiritual book a week; clean and gather items to donate for one hour a day; watch only one hour of TV daily; buy nothing new in these weeks (except necessities); open and use new items that are still packaged up; forego salty snacks and the crisp golden beverage that goes with them; fix broken items; and (my Leaven staff will love this) write this column early. Mark My Words is the last thing completed on deadline day.
Realistically, if I set out to do all of those things above, it will not go well. This little story from Tony Campolo shows why:
A man came to a counselor because he was falling out of love with his wife. The counselor told the man to think of all the ways he could make life happier for his wife . . . and then, do them. A few days later, the counselor got this phone call from the husband:
“Every day, I leave for work, put in a hard day, come home dirty and sweaty, stumble in the back door, go to the refrigerator, get something to drink and then go into the rec room and watch TV until supper time.
“After talking to you, I decided I would do better than that in the future. So yesterday, before I left work, I showered and shaved and put on a clean shirt. On the way home, I stopped at the florist and bought a bouquet of roses. Instead of going in the back door as I usually do, I went to the front and rang the doorbell.
“My wife opened the door, took one look at me, and started to cry. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, ‘It’s been a horrible day. First, Billy broke his leg and had to have it put in a cast. I no sooner returned home from the hospital when your mother called and told me that she’s coming to stay for three weeks. I tried to do the wash and the washing machine broke and there’s water all over the basement. And now, you have to come home drunk!’” (Found in “Illustrations Unlimited,” edited by James S. Hewett.)
Well, that story is enough to warn me off of doing all 10 of my Lenten disciplines at once. Perhaps that’s why the church wisely gives us these 40 or so days of Lent.
Although we do need to change, that transformation has to come gradually so that it “sticks.” It has to come from the inside out — that is, from the heart.
All too often, even if we’re faithful to our resolutions during Lent, we slide back into our old, bad habits once Easter rolls around.
So, it’s back to the drawing board for me. Ten resolutions are way too many and, at least for me, unsustainable. Instead, I’ve asked the Holy Spirit to help me clarify which disciplines are both realistic and will benefit my spiritual growth.
I’m starting small. Restricting my TV watching frees up time to tackle the note writing and spiritual reading. And one book a week is too ambitious; one every two weeks is manageable. Finding one hour all at once to clean and gather items to donate sounds daunting. Instead, I’m doing it just 20 minutes at a time — every morning, afternoon and night.
Unfortunately, though good, those other resolutions will have to wait, especially that of finishing this column early. After all, I want my staff to still recognize me when Easter rolls around!