by Father Mark Goldasich
Hear that knocking? I don’t mean to alarm you, but it’s the season of Lent . . . and it’s at your door . . . already. Are you ready for it?
I recently came across a story from Danny Cox, a former jet fighter pilot. He told about the difficulties experienced by early pilots when ejecting from jet fighters, which were obviously much faster than propeller planes. When ejecting, a pilot had to push a button, clear the plane, and then roll forward out of the seat so the parachute could open. The problem was that some pilots, in these much faster planes, would keep a grip on the seat, and the parachute would remain trapped between the seat and the pilot’s back.
Eventually, some engineers came up with a solution. They created a two-inch webbed strap and attached one end to the front edge of the seat, under the pilot, and the other end to an electronic take-up reel behind the headrest. A couple of seconds after a pilot ejected, the electronic reel would immediately take up the slack in the strap and force the pilot out of his seat, thereby freeing the parachute! (Adapted from “What Provokes Change,” found in “Perfect Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion,” by Craig Brian Larson and Drew Zahn.)
In my spiritual life, I often feel like a pilot in the original design of the jet fighter. I’m clinging to the seat for dear life — the seat of my sins, my old habits, my laziness, and my comfort. In short, I’m afraid to change, to let go. The season of Lent is like the new seat design: It’s something that forces us out of our present place in life and launches us to where we need to be.
If you feel you need a push to get started this Lent, don’t dial 9-1-1 or even 4-1-1. Instead, think “1-1-1.” It’s an idea from an online post by Greg Erlandson, the president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor. And he borrowed the idea from Father James Shafer, his pastor in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Father Shafer’s Lenten formula is concise: One Sin, One Add, One Give Up. Since many try to tackle too much during Lent (and often end up “punting” a few weeks — or even days — later), his simple formula is worth pondering.
Father Shafer suggests focusing on just one sin during Lent and doing something practical to eliminate it or at least lessen its hold.
Next, he suggests adding one thing as a Lenten discipline: read the Bible more, attend Stations of the Cross, go to confession, or volunteer your time.
Finally, Father Shafer suggests giving up just one thing. Makes sense, doesn’t it? I’m using two books this Lent to help me incorporate the “1-1-1” plan. The first is “Writing to God: 40 Days of Praying with My Pen,” by Rachel F. Hackenberg (Paraclete Press, 2011; $15.99). Each “day” of the book begins with a prayer, has a short passage of Scripture, and proposes some questions to get your creative spiritual juices flowing to help you compose a prayer on your own. To my thinking, all Lenten disciplines need to start here, with prayer.
The second book is “Simplifying the Soul: Lenten Practices to Renew Your Spirit,” by Paula Huston (Ave Maria Press, 2011; $14.95). Each of the 40 days of Lent has a little story to begin, a meditation, and then a practical item to accomplish. Huston must have a listening device in my home because Ash Wednesday’s task is: Clear out a junk drawer or closet. She has other challenging tasks all through the season, like: spend a day without email or your cellphone, or fast from sugar, alcohol or fat for a day.
I anticipate a challenging, but focused Lent this year. How about you? This weekend, spend some time looking at your heart and your life and see what needs adjusting. Use this Lent as a time of conversion, to change your life for the better. Let Christ launch you out of your comfort zone into a new and deeper Christian life.
I’m actually looking forward to Lent this year, thanks to the plan of Father Shafer. I owe him “1-1-1.”