by Father Mark Goldasich
I will not kill anyone unless I have to.
So reads the first line of a code of conduct from Dennis Lee Curtis. Curtis, who was arrested in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1992, had a sheet of paper in his wallet containing seven additional points. Author Brian Burrell in “Words We Live By,” shares the rest of Curtis’ list:
2. I will take cash and food stamps — no checks.
3. I will rob only at night.
4. I will not wear a mask.
5. I will not rob mini-marts or 7-Eleven stores.
6. If I get chased by cops on foot, I will get away. If chased by vehicle, I will not put the lives of innocent civilians on the line.
7. I will rob only seven months out of the year.
8. I will enjoy robbing from the rich to give to the poor.
Burrell notes that Curtis did have “a sense of morality, but it was flawed. When the thief stood before the court, he was not judged by the standards he had set for himself, but by the higher laws of the state.” (Found in “1001 Illustrations That Connect,” edited by Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof.)
So, what is your personal code? What are the rules by which you live life? Lent is a marvelous time to reflect on our behavior and deal with the flaws that are hiding there.
In talking with some parishioners the past few days, a common code we share is: I will buy things that I don’t need and hold onto others long after they’ve outlived their usefulness. To correct that, many of us are (slowly) simplifying our homes during Lent.
One of my RCIA candidates recently brought in a couple of her daughter’s beautiful dresses. One, a first Communion dress, was worn exactly twice: once for Communion and later at a wedding. Still, her mom held onto the dress — even though the daughter is now a junior in high school! The smile on her face was huge as she surrendered the two dresses: One went to the daughter of another person in the RCIA class and the Communion dress will be used by a parish second-grader.
Another of our flawed codes is: I’ll be extremely generous with the time and money spent on myself, but stingy with what I give to others. For example, the other day I decided not to head out for fast food for lunch. I started to put “a couple of bucks” into my Rice Bowl and then stopped. I knew good and well that a meal out would cost at least $5, but I didn’t want to share “that much” with the hungry. Sad.
A third common flawed code is: I will spend the best — and largest — part of the day on Facebook or computer games and give God the dregs or leftovers . . . if any. Can you relate?
Personally, I’m tackling two flawed codes this Lenten season. The first is: I love to get gift cards of all kinds, but then wind up hoarding instead of using them! To remedy that, I’ve compiled a list of the various cards and their amounts and have already begun to make a dent in the pile.
My second flawed code is: In conversations, I will interrupt the speaker to interject my opinion because, after all, only my words matter! To correct this, I’m simply biting my tongue more and willing myself to listen and learn.
Even though none of us are thieves like Dennis Lee Curtis, we all need the disciplines of Lent — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — to readjust our personal, flawed codes of conduct. Not only will that make us better human beings here on earth, it will prepare us well for our final judgment with the Lord. After all, we’re going to be judged not on the code that we’re created for ourselves but on what God expects of us.
I’m glad that we’re just at the beginning of Lent because, with all of flaws in my code of conduct, I need a massive faith-lift!