Dear Pope Francis,
In the two months since we started Letters to the Pope, Lauren and I have been keeping track of the search terms landing people on the site. Some of the search terms come in the form of questions others are simply subjects.
We’re both beginning to feel like this blog is a real form of ministry not just a place to talk about our experience in the church. We want to try and address those people searching for answers while we continue to explore our faith through these letters.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day. Celebrated in both a religious and a secular context around the world, everyone is Irish on St. Paddy’s Day. Associated with the holiday (the purpose of which is to celebrate the conversion of Ireland to Christianity, not just Irish culture) are parties with drinking, dancing, and eating all sorts of food. For people who give up meat, or dessert, or alcohol St. Patrick’s Day can present a unique challenge since it quite often falls during the season of Lent.
But what happens when you break a Lenten promise?
You figure out why you broke it and you try again. Maybe you change what you’re giving up or trying to do and aim a little lower. The season of Lent isn’t about giving something up, it’s about trying to deepen your relationship with God so you can be fully part of the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter.
“Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance.”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church 1430)
I’ve already broken my commitment this year to going to mass or praying the rosary every day. The reason is really stupid: I wake up and I think of how I need to do it, but then I get distracted by games on my phone before I get around to actually praying. Only twice in my life have I ever succeeded at keeping my Lenten promise for the entire season. Once was when I was twelve or thirteen years old, the other when I was 22.
When was a kid, I remember Mom thought I should give up TV completely. I specifically chose to give up The Simpsons because it was the program I watched most frequently. Different episodes came on four or five times a day between three channels and I watched every single one.
It was really hard to give it up because my brother and sisters and friends all still watched it religiously. But I was resolved to last until Easter and I spent the time reading books and jumping on the small trampoline in my friend’s backyard.
At first I was counting down the days until Easter because I missed watching it so much. I felt left out at school because I hadn’t watched The Simpsons so I couldn’t talk about it with my friends there. But by the end of the season, I didn’t crave the show. I did start watching it again, but only occasionally. I had broken the habit and discovered other, more interesting things to do with my time.
For people who fail to keep their commitment to forgo dessert, or meat, or alcohol on St. Patrick’s Day, there is a bright side: since it is a feast day we are allowed to celebrate it and there is dispensation from fasting in many dioceses.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
Go out, join in the celebrations. Be Irish for the day. But you’ve made it almost two weeks already – why not celebrate St. Patrick while keeping your fast? Volunteer to be the Designated Driver (Lord knows some people will need one) or focus on enjoying the veggie tray. Help with the dishes or with serving the food so you’ll be occupied and avoid the temptation of nibbling just that one bite of dessert.
Avoiding one more level so I can be on the level with Mama Mary,