Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
I don't know what this means about me, but I always like Lent.
I know. What a jerk, right? Bucking for them uber-Catholic points. People who say they like Lent are just lying, like tough guys who say they prefer dentistry without the novocaine, Just to prove how tough they are.
Permit me to explain. There are certainly things about the Faith I dislike. The whole "having to admit I'm wrong about something" business is an aspect of Catholic teaching I could really do without. I don't much care for the Hell stuff. I could really stand to take a pass on having to forgive people I can't stand.
But Lent, I've always somehow liked. It goes back to a time about 30 years ago when I lost a job and found myself without any visible means of support. What I thought would be terrifying turned out be exhilarating in a strange way. I was not Catholic at the time; just an Evangelical, single, foot-loose and fancy free. And I discovered, quite by accident, that Francis was right about all the poverty stuff being liberating. As it happened, this little period of joblessness took place right about this time of year. I don't think I knew at the time that this time of year was called "Lent". But because all that happened at this time of year, and because that time made such an impression on me as the moment when I first realized that poverty and dependence on Providence could feel like freedom and not like exposure to the elements, I've always loved this time of year and identified it with all that. When I became Catholic, Lent just sort of built on top of it. And the whole Lenten thing--the astringent, desert, trimming things back to the bare bones Lenten thing--still feels refreshing because of it.
I could really use some time in the desert, getting rid of the junk I don't need and taking up the new life I do need so badly, as the sinner I am. So: what you are getting rid of? What are you picking up?