Our college chaplain used to encourage us to take on thoughtful penances for Lent -- but not to tell everyone what we had chosen. "It's not . . . " he would say, carefully, screwing up his cherubic face (and we knew he was going to bring out the big guns). . . "It's not helpful."
And he is right. A sacrifice is a personal thing, and nothing good can come of telling other people what you've decided to do for Lent.
He had nothing to say, however, on the subject of telling other people what to give up for Lent. So that's what I'm going to do.
- To anyone in the secular media attempting to write a story about the Catholic Church: give up winging it. Listen, the Church is complicated. We're not denying this. It's very old, and very big, and uses a lot of strange words. But you're smart enough to admit it when you don't know something, right? It's okay not to be an expert. That's why we have books, and websites, and friendly people who actually are experts, and who are just dying for someone with a press badge to say, "So, what is anointing of the sick, anyway?" or, "What exactly does the Church teach about contraception?" This Lent, lay down that heavy burden of having to make up ridiculous stuff about the Church. Just lay it down.
- To my kids: I don't expect to sail through parenthood without any trials -- truly, I don't. I know that your little brains are still loosely knit, like a sock made by someone just learning how to handle yarn. And so I will make allowances for you. But if you could, even just for the next six weeks or so, give up springing things on me. Eh? This is the exact conversation we had last night at a quarter of nine:
Kid: Oh, so I need a pumpkin pie tomorrow.
Me: A pumpkin pie? You need a pumpkin pie?
Kid: Only one!
- To my dog: You know how I'm standing there cutting up meat, and you shamble up and give me that "Oh, don't mind me, I just came by to shoot the breeze. Nice day, innit? Yep. Say, so, SAY, that is some MEAT you've got there, I mean, MEAT, I mean, I'm a DOG, so, um, so, HEY GIVE ME THAT MEAT GIVE IT GIVE IT GIVE IT TO ME." Give it up, dog.
- To credulous Catholics everywhere, who insist on pinning their wagons to stars (harumphLegionofChristharumph,coughMedjugorjecoughcough,hackhackanythingthatRoratecaeliisupsetabouthackhackhack) that have taken on an unmistakably downward trajectory: please, please, for the love of all that is sane, give up using the defense of "but look at all the good fruit!" That's not an argument, because hey, you know what else bears good fruit? Practically everything. Practically everything in the world can be the place where someone meets God and receives grace. That's because God is good, not because everything is awesome.
- To the Pope: with all due respect, your holiness, you gotta give up all the cussing. It's not . . . it's not helpful.