“Happy” Ash Wednesday!

This is a long post. If you don’t have time to read it all but are looking for some resources to help you through Lent, you can scroll to the bottom and find some wonderful links.

ashwedIf you follow me on Twitter or on Facebook, you are likely aware that I am Catholic. I was born and raised in the Catholic faith, and I have studied it quite a bit over the years. Like most people who share a faith in God, I struggle from time to time with my belief and my commitment to the practice of my faith.

You might say “But God doesn’t care about outward ‘practices’. He only cares about what is in our hearts.” And to a degree, I think that is true. However, I think that God does want us to reach out to Him. For those of us who have been raised in or who, later in life, have chosen the Catholic faith, this means attending Mass on Sunday, making regular confessions, and spending time in prayer and service to our fellow man.

Outwardly, these do not sound very difficult. But for some reason, these items tend to fall by the wayside a little too easily. In today’s world (actually, I think this has been true throughout all of history), we get bombarded with outside requirements, daily tasks, illnesses, activities, and a multitude of other things that vie for our attention. Often, the first thing to go is our commitment to our spiritual lives.

Now I know that there are people who don’t fall into this trap. But I am not one of them. When kids’ activities, financial pressures, household tasks, the pressures of military life and the demands of running a large family get overwhelming, often for me the first thing to go is my morning prayer time. This leads to a distancing of myself from God (notice, it is not God who distances Himself from me).

Not being spiritually nourished, I find myself empty and weakened. I turn to something like social media to give me an emotional “boost”. An hour passes without my even noticing, and now I am hurrying to complete tasks (making lunches for the kids, finding school uniform items, arguing with them about why they didn’t pack their backpacks the night before). By the time I send them out the door in the morning, I am drained, both emotionally and spiritually.

And then I have to face the tasks of taking care of the Littles (my name for my children who are not yet of school age) and general household tasks (cleaning, running errands, paying bills, etc.) I don’t perform these well. I use the tv too much as a “babysitter”. When the Bigs get home from school I am behind on my tasks and stressed and not as available to them as I would like to be.

And then I feel guilty.

And anyone who has ever felt guilty about anything knows that the last thing you want to do when you feel guilty is to own up to your errors. It’s easier to ignore them, at least in the short run.

The weekend approaches and I could go to confession. Now, it is not a sin per se to skip morning prayer time. But I can guarantee you that I sin in some way, shape or form every day of my life. And confession is an amazing experience in Catholicism. Sometimes you go and you go through the motions of saying your prayers and confessing your sins and you leave feeling a little better, but nothing profound happens. And other times you go to confession and you feel almost a physical “lifting” of your burdens from your shoulders. I have often exited the confessional feeling “taller” and “lighter”. I cannot explain it adequately, but it is akin to a spiritual “detox” and a breakthrough “therapy session”.

Anyway, if I am the least bit tired, busy, or uninspired, I avoid confession. And then it is even harder to drag myself and my family to Mass on Sunday morning. Without Mass, which can feed us socially as well as spiritually, I enter the next week even emptier and spiritually farther from God, the source of my strength, than I was before. In addition, I have committed a major “no-no” and am starting the week in weakened state and with even more fodder for the confessional.

I have found myself in this spiritually weakened state quite a lot lately.

One of the other beautiful things about the Catholic faith is that there are traditions and cycles that help us through the year. And the cycles always seem to change just when we need them to do so.

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the start of the season of Lent. This is a time of fasting and prayer. And although these things might not always come naturally to us, the practice of these traditions helps us to get in touch with the people that God made us to be.

The funny thing is, I love this season! Ash Wednesday feels like a cleansing for me…a time to shed the weight of the winter (even if we still have tons of snow on the ground) and do a little spiritual Spring cleaning.

If you are Catholic, I invite you to attend Mass today (it is a Holy Day of Obligation after all) and start your return journey to God and His will for you. And don’t forget that today is a day of fasting and abstinence.

If you are not Catholic, you are of course welcome at Mass! Find your local Catholic parish and feel free to attend and see what this ashes business is all about.

Either way, take some time today to reflect and ask God what He would have you do during these next 40 days.

I will be fasting from Facebook and challenging myself to get out of the house and do something good for others every day.

I would love to hear how you plan to observe Lent this year.

If you need some resources to help you, you can find some excellent books, meditations, and other tools at the following sites:

The Word Among Us (daily meditations on Mass readings, articles and other resources)

Catholic Mom (materials for all things related to being a Catholic mom)

The Vatican (the official site for the Vatican…messages from Pope Francis)

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (a site with all things related to Catholicism in the US)

These are just a few. Each of these sites should have links to other good resources as well. I will try to add more as we progress through this Lenten season.  Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you have a “Happy Ash Wednesday!”

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