I’ll be eating oatmeal for breakfast during Lent, and walking around more. If I was in England, I’d probably call it porridge, and that’s another topic.
It’ll be be good for my health, and I’m sure that’s one reason my wife suggested it. But that’s not the only, or the main, reason.
Lent isn’t about me.
It’s part of the annual cycle of Advent, Lent, and Easter.
We’re remembering and, in a sense, re-living what our Lord did, two millennia back now. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1095)
Lent is when we join Jesus in the desert. Sort of. (Catechism, 540)
Lent: A New Beginning
(Badlands National Park, South Dakota: semi-arid, not quite a desert.)
I live in central Minnesota, where the nearest dunes I know of are in the Sand Dunes State Forest, a bit over an hour east of my town.
Folks going to the Dunes see savanna, forest, and wetlands: or go boating on Ann Lake. Even in drought years, Minnesota isn’t a particularly dry state.
Heading west and a little south for several hours, I’d reach the South Dakota Badlands. They look like a desert, but I’d have to keep going until I reached the Great Basin between California and Wyoming to find a desert.
Happily, I can work at joining our Lord in the desert right here in central Minnesota.
Again: Lent isn’t about self-improvement, or a road trip to arid land.
“Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God ‘with all their hearts’ (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016)….”
(Pope Francis1 (October 18, 2016))
Prayer, almsgiving, and fasting — the three vital forms of interior penance — are ways we fix our relationships with others, God, and ourselves. (Catechism, 1434)
About fasting: ordering Lobster Thermidor instead of beef bourguignon misses the whole point of penitential fasting.
There’s nothing particularly ‘penitential’ about porridge. On the other hand, I don’t like it as much as the yogurt I’ve been having for breakfast. Besides, it’ll save a few cents each day. I’ll be serving my family, in a minuscule way, which is a good idea. (Catechism, 1616, 2201–2206)
Almsgiving is a good idea, too. It gives a measure of relief to folks who need the money, and helps the giver remember that this world is God’s gift to everyone, not just whoever has the most stuff. (Genesis 1:27–31; Catechism, 2401–2406)
I’ve talked about the universal destination of goods, Trappists, and getting a grip, before. (February 10, 2017; September 25, 2016; August 14, 2016 )
Almsgiving is an opportunity to see our Lord in others.
“…Dear brothers and sisters, Lent invites us to ‘train ourselves’ spiritually, also through the practice of almsgiving, in order to grow in charity and recognize in the poor Christ Himself. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read that the Apostle Peter said to the cripple who was begging alms at the Temple gate: ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk’….” (Acts 3: 6)
(Benedict XVI (October 30, 2007))
After Peter helped the crippled beggar stand up, he was “walking and jumping and praising God.” The beggar, that is. (Acts 3:7–8)
Miracles like that happen. (Acts 2:22; Catechism, 547–549)
“MIRACLE: A sign or wonder, such as a healing or the control of nature, which can only be attributed to divine power. The miracles of Jesus were messianic signs of the presence of God’s kingdom (547).”
Accepting miracles is one thing.
Expecting God to act as a sort of magic wand, putting God’s power “to the test,” is a bad idea. I’ll get back to that.
As I keep saying, we’ve got brains. Using them is part of our job. Science and technology are tools, not transgressions. God gave us brains, and expects us to use them. (Catechism, 1730–1742, 1778, 2292–2296, 2402–2405, 2456)
Ethics apply, no matter what sort of tech we use, or how curious we are, and that’s yet another topic. (October 16, 2016; August 21, 2016)
Where was I? Brains, miracles — almsgiving. Right.
Giving to some charitable outfit can be almsgiving — or a prestige-building photo op. I’m not sure where filling out the ‘charitable giving’ part of tax forms falls on that continuum.
“1 “(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
“When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites 2 do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.”
The Desert and Deuteronomy
(From Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi, via the Google Cultural Institute and Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
(Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi’s “Christ in the Wilderness.” (1872))
That brings me to next week’s Gospel reading, Matthew 4:1–11. Pretty much the same thing is in Luke 4:1–13.
It’s the bit where our Lord says “It is written: ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4)
“It is written” in Deuteronomy 8:2–3, where that forty-year desert detour gets presented as a learning experience:
“…to show you that not by bread alone does man live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.”
Quoting Deuteronomy was our Lord’s response to a three-part temptation: hunger, worldly power and prestige, and tempting God. The latter is “putting his goodness and almighty power to the test by word or deed,” and a very bad idea. (Catechism, 2119)
Tempting God isn’t the sort of testing mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21 and that’s yet again another topic. (Catechism, 801)
Getting back to that desert encounter, our Lord countered the temptations with his relationship with God the Father. I think abstract principles, moral strength, or a code of ethics, can be good things.
But they’re not what’s really important in a crisis. Love is.
Jesus repeats what God said, in Deuteronomy 6:13, 6:16, and 8:3.
Jesus loves his Father too much to let anything interfere with that relationship. That’s a contrast to the disastrous choice the first of us made, making something other than God top priority. (Catechism, 538–540)
For two millennia, we’ve been passing along the best news humanity ever had — God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:12–14, 3:17; Romans 8:14–17; Peter 1:3–4; Catechism, 27–30, 52, 1825, 1996)
Accepting the invitation or not is up to each of us, of course. We have free will. (Catechism, 1021–1037)
I decided that following our Lord makes sense long before learning who holds the authority Peter received, and that’s still another topic.2
As an adopted child of God, acting like part of the family makes sense: to me, anyway. (September 11, 2016)
God’s ‘family values’ are pretty simple: I should love God, love my neighbors, see everybody as my neighbor, and treat others as I want to be treated. (Matthew 5:43–44, 7:12, 22:36–40, Mark 12:28–31; Luke 6:31 10:25–27, 29–37)
“Simple” isn’t necessarily “easy,” and I’ve been over that before. (December 11, 2016; November 29, 2016)
Finally — Lent isn’t about oatmeal or deserts. It’s about the Word who brought us life, light, and hope:
“1 2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
“He was in the beginning with God.
“3 All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be
“through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race;
“4 the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
More, mostly about acting like God matters:
- “New Daily Prayer Routine”
(February 19, 2017)
- “Fan or Follower of Jesus?”
(January 22, 2017)(Guest post)
- “Sin, Awareness, Repentance”
(December 4, 2016)
- “Faith That Matters”
(October 2, 2016)
- “Temperance, Catholic Style”
(July 10, 2016)
1 More about taking love seriously:
- “The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift”
Pope Francis (October 18, 2016)
- “Message of His Holiness Benedict XVI for Lent 2008”
Benedict XVI (October 30, 2007)
- “Populorum Progressio”
Encyclical of Pope Paul VI on the Development of Peoples
Blessed Paul VI (March 26, 1967)
2 I’m an adult convert. A little more about that is in “Becoming a Catholic.”
Well … I thought this post was about oats.
In the UK we call it porridge, as you say. In Scotland they make it with water, or milk, or milk and water, and they add salt. They eat a lot of porridge in Scotland, and they also make magnificent biscuits called Oat Cake. Very nice with cheese. In England porridge is made with sugar rather than salt. I make it with neither. Just straight oats either cooked in milk, or with ice cold milk. Oats/porridge lowers cholesterol. It is good for the digestion and served with a good serving of broccoli will keep you healthy for ever.
So there you have it. However, the rest of your post is brilliant.
🙂 Thank you for the porridge perspectives, and good words. I’ll be making mine in the Scots tradition, I think.
Thanks Brian for forever thoughtful style of making me think while engaging me in unknown. Your insights and humor have inspired me as fellow Catholic blogger. Happy Lent!
Happy Lent! And thank you for your kind words.
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This is such a great post! I think it was beautiful how you wove theology into your reflection on Lent. May your Lent this year be spiritually enhancing and lead to deeper introspection, with the ability to share that in words.
Thank you, Anni H. You’ve given me something to work – and pray – for. I trust that your Lent will be a good one, too.
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I thought this post was a bit of deja vu, even though it is not written in French. Then I saw my comment above and thought it is double deja vu.
Anyway, you mention charitable giving and tax. In the UK if you give money to charity the Government increases your donation by 25%. So you give £100 to charity and the charity gets an extra £25 from the Government.
As the chap said, ‘it’s deja vu all over again. 🙂 The ‘add 25%’ system looks good, at least as a way to give citizens some control over where their tax money goes. What other effects it might have – that’ likely another topic.