I left mass yesterday wondering if I had already royally screwed up Lent. The gospel reading talked to the behaviors of Christians during times of prayer, fasting and alms-giving – which is more or less what Lent is all about.
Matthew specifically says, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
So, isn’t writing a blog about your experiences attending daily mass during Lent 100% against everything this says? I spent some time yesterday afternoon and last night thinking about it. Why really am I doing this? Am I writing to show people I’m a good person – a good Catholic? Am I guilty of a “look at me!” move?
There were other parts of mass that stood out. When I shared with a co-worker that I would be blogging about my Lenten journey, he asked, “Are you going to write about the car ride to and from church?” It was his typical satirical way and I was amused – but when Bishop Lennon was giving his homily yesterday, he said, “It’s not the kind of journey where you get in the car and go somewhere… it’s a spiritual journey to get closer to God.”
So, if that is in fact why I’m doing this – to get closer to God – then I think I’m okay.
As most of the free world knows, today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent means a lot of different things for people – for some, it’s a time of self-sacrifice. Those I’ve talked to are giving up everything from chocolate to sweets to booze to sex. For others, it’s an opportunity to do more for friends, family or strangers. I’ve “celebrated” Lent in various ways throughout the years… I’ve given up drinking, candy and shopping. I’ve donated more money to charity. But last year, I embarked on what was likely the boldest Lenten promise I’ve ever made to myself or to God. I challenged myself to attend mass – not every Sunday, but every day. If memory serves, I believe I attended mass 25 of 40 days last year. It was, to say the least, an eye-opening experience… I realized how little I actually pay attention when I’m in church. I would leave church, walk to my car and be unable to recall any of the homily. I realized I was on autopilot throughout the service – responding to prayers like a character in George Orwell’s 1984 or in that creepy Apple Super Bowl commercial from years ago. I didn’t like this at all… I didn’t like that I was devoting myself to spending time with God and was using that time to determine who I was going to go out with on Friday night. I used the experience to become more involved at the Cathedral in downtown Cleveland and became a Eucharistic Minister on Wednesday afternoons. I then began reading there every other Friday in addition to my bi-monthly reading at my home parish in Mentor.
My parents raised four children in a Catholic home. Church and PSR were mandatory. But when we became adults, Mom and Dad never forced us to continue going to church or take part in Catholicism. Of my siblings, I am arguably the most involved in my native religion. My brother has chosen a different path of Christianity and is very involved with his church… my sisters don’t often attend mass. Mass and the Church feel like home to me. Do I love everything about Catholicism? Absolutely not. But in life, do we ever love everything about everything? Can we name a time when our employer made a decision or rule that we didn’t agree with? Likely, but I doubt many left their job because of it… can we remember when our significant other or friend did or said something against what we truly believe in? Surely, but we may have not ended the relationship because of it. So no – Catholicism is not perfect. But the last time I checked, neither was I.
Today, I embark again on a journey of attending daily mass for the next 40 days. And I’m planning to truly listen – soak in the messages – enjoy this time with God and allow the words I hear to follow me out of the building and into my every day life.