Saturday, February 28, 2009

Alms for the Poor

The third Lenten practice is Almsgiving, which usually means giving money to the poor and needy. You can also give time and effort by volunteering or helping out a neighbor, friend, family member or complete stranger. My wife and I haven't figured out where we will be giving and in what sort of currency (monetary or time), but we've had several hints.

Four weeks ago we went out to my Mom's home in Front Royal, VA, to celebrate my brother's birthday. We stayed overnight Saturday and went to Mass there on Sunday. The priest's homily was short and then he started to talk about the annual Bishop's Lenten Appeal for the diocese of Arlington, VA. He spoke passionately and persuasively about giving to the appeal to support all the good works of the diocese, like supporting crisis pregnancy centers, funding the education of seminarians to be the future priests of the diocese, funding medical centers that provide medicine and healing to the poor, etc. We were impressed, but don't live in that diocese.

Three weeks ago we went to Mass at St. Mary of the Mills, one of the northernmost parishes of the Washington, DC, diocese. The priest gave a brief homily and started to talk about the annual Archbishop's Lenten Appeal. He also spoke quite well about the benefits, including support for building new churches and providing services to the immigrant communities in the District. Pledge envelops were in the pews and he encouraged us to fill one out and make a commitment before Lent started. We're actually registered at St. Michael the Archangel in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is also in the archdiocese, so we didn't commit on that Sunday.

Two weeks ago we had the honor of being godparents for our friends' first son, Colin Zachary. He was baptized at a Saturday vigil Mass in Columbia, Maryland. As you may have guessed, the priest spoke briefly about the gospel and then pointed out the pledge cards for the Archdiocese of Baltimore Lenten giving campaign that we should fill out (the pews had pledge cards and golf pencils). He actually walked the congregation through filling out the form, using his own information as an example. We aren't members there either, so we didn't fill it out, though it was tempting to fill out the form with his information.

So I think God wants us to donate to a diocese. Possibly multiple dioceses! My wife and I will have to discern prayerfully.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Prayer Post, Post Haste

The second recommended Lenten activity is Prayer. Naturally, you should be praying all the time (if you are lucky enough to be living the monastic life style) or at least have some form of regular prayer life/schedule (in a monastery, the whole schedule is based on prayer). Lent is a time to renew a flagging prayer life or add a little lagniappe to the routine.

What have I decided to do this Lent? A good strategy here is to be honest with yourself about your prayer life. I don't do a lot of formal prayer. I listen to the Divine Office on a podcast but a lot of the time it is just background noise while I go through daily routines like feeding my 16 month old son Jacob breakfast. Lots of distractions equal not much praying. So I'm looking for a way to be more focused when I listen. That's the weak part of my Lenten prayer, because I don't have a specific plan and it may possibly go down the drain.

The other common Catholic prayer I have been neglectful of is the Rosary. I used to be great at making time to pray the rosary as a child and at college. But the habit fell away somewhen afterward. Now, when I try to pick it up, it is very rote and my mind wanders all over the place. Anywhere but on the prayers or on the mystery. In an effort to return to the habit and do it well, I've decided to say one decade a day. It's a small start but is easy to do. The idea is to train with it like you would to prepare for a marathon--start slowly with short distances and work your way up to longer runs and faster paces. I am using a book of meditations and pictures by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, The Rosary, Chain of Hope. I read the meditation and then say the decade as I look at the Renaissance painting in the book. (The book includes the new Luminous Mysteries, in case anyone is wondering.) So far it has worked really well, though I am only on day three. The hard work will come later when it isn't fresh and new and fun and other things start trying to squeeze it out of my schedule.

Starting from this foundation, I will build up to the traditional sets of mysteries and will be better focused on what I am praying for. Now if I can just get my toddler to pray along with me...

Tomorrow, the ever popular almsgiving!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Traditionally, Catholics prepare for the coming of Easter with fasting, prayer and almsgiving. The first and last sound rather quaint, if you know what they mean at all. Today, I'll write about fasting.

During Lent, Catholics are called to fast. "Slow down," you might say, "what is fasting?" Merriam-Webster says it means "to abstain from food or to eat sparingly and abstain from some food." To fast is to refrain from eating the normal amount of food. Catholics (from ages 18-58) are obliged to do this on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, assuming there are no medical conditions that would create an exception (my sister is in the hospital right now and so is exempt; my wife is pregnant and also exempt). For Catholics this means eating one full meal with the some food two other times. Of course this is a minimum and people are encouraged to do more if they can.

Related to fasting is Abstinence. "Wait, we are already 'abstaining' from food, so does this mean sex?" you may venture. A logical deduction, but not correct. Catholics (from ages 14 on (i.e., till death do you depart)) are required not to eat meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. What if you're a vegetarian/vegan? I'd say give up something else that you like (not necessarily food) to keep in the spirit of self-denial. Being a meat lover, I don't need any substitutes.

Also related to fasting is the idea of "giving something up" for Lent. I've give up many different things in the past (chocolate, snacking, you know, the usual stuff), but this year I've been inspired by a blog I read to try something different: fasting from fiction. Now, the blogger is going full-bore, i.e. no books, no TV shows, no movies. I am shooting with a lesser caliber. I am abstaining just from printed fiction (which I've been reading a lot of), except for reading books to my 16-month old son. If I stopped reading his books to him, it would be a penance for him, not for me. Though I imagine the situation could rapidly become penitential for me as well. But I digress...

In stead of reading fiction, the blogger is starting a Lenten read-a-thon and this year's book is Theology of the Body by John Paul II. I've already read two thirds of that, so I will finish that up in due course. I've just started Pope Benedict XVI's The Apostles to begin my non-fiction journey. Once that's done, I'll pick up JPII again.

So much for fasting, tomorrow we look at prayer!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday, a good time to start a blog?

I've decided for Lent 2009 to have a daily blog. Why do that? I suppose it is not so much a penance as a discipline for the season of Lent. Blogging will force me to give up some of the time I waste on frivolous internet wandering. How much time has been spent on reading random posts and sites, watching videos on YouTube and elsewhere (curse you, Apple Store movie previews!!), etc.? Indeed, I am giving up something in order to (hopefully) improve my writing. And also clear out some random thoughts that keep floating through my head and distracting me as well.

I have intended to write more this year and am working on a podcast, but progress is very slow because the topic is research-intensive. The podcast will cover the background myths, history, theology, philosophy, etc., in the Hellboy stories. I've written the main text for an episode on Rasputin but have bogged down in research on Nazi involvement in the occult. It is a much bigger topic than I imagined. Plus, there's all the other stuff involved with making a good podcast--getting equipment, creating intros and outros, setting up a website, finding time to record.

I also have an idea for a Hellboy story set in Hawaii (where we went to a conference back in January), but haven't really set down anything in writing yet. I may be fleshing out or flushing out ideas for that in this blog.

What other content can you expect here? I'll probably write occasionally about my cute-as-can-be 16-month old son and his adventures, learning, etc. (boy, using hyphens sure slows down the typing). And maybe some Catholic stuff too, since this is a Lenten post. Tomorrow, I will write about my other planned Lenten sacrifices.