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Archive for February, 2008

The title for this post was not born out of my own imagination. I’ve been working my way through The Night is Far Spent: A Treasury of Thomas Howard. This author figured fairly prominently in my conversion, or reversion, if your prefer. He taught English literature at my college but “resigned” after he converted to Catholicism. This was in 1985, I believe, but the way folks talked about it I had long thought it must have happened the year before I got to the school–which was 1998. Anyway, he lived in the neighborhood and was friendly enough with the college that he returned to give a talk on “The Church of Rome in the Body of Christ” at the end of my junior year. He set about answering long simmering questions that I hadn’t really had the time to articulate for myself, yet. It was that talk, more than anything, that set me irrevocably on the road back to the Church. I was privileged to get to know Mr. Howard very slightly later at parish events.

Thomas Howard is a serious anglophile. Many of the essays in this book were lectures given at Oxford. I’ve completed the first section “Things Literary and Literary Men” and almost the last essay is “Let us Purify the Dialect of the Tribe,” a quote from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. Howard makes the case in this essay for loving language, particularly as a writer. Certainly, Howard himself is a lover of language. My one criticism of this collection of essays thus far is that it’s just a bit much. When writing at book length, Tom Howard manages to temper himself a bit knowing that his reader must get through several hundred pages. In essay, article, or speech length he tries to cram himself and his love of language into just ten or twelve pages. The essays need to be read one at a time. But it is lovely. I’ve loved Howard’s use of the English language since I first read his On Being Catholic and I’m struggling to be encouraged, rather than discouraged, as I read him now. I don’t exactly want to write just like Thomas Howard, but I hope to have the same tools at my disposal: the English language. From literary references, to the most appropriate vocabulary choices, to correct use of commas. Part of the reason I don’t blog more often is that I don’t have the time to do justice to most of the ideas in my head.

On the whole, though, I am encouraged when I read really good writing and this essay on language has stuck with me. I remember fondly one summer in college when I was living in the dorms and became friends with someone I barely knew while classes were in session. Together we worked hard at eliminating “like” from our conversation. We were very nearly successful. I don’t talk like an airhead anymore. But there’s nothing like living with a three-year old to bring one’s linguistic deficiencies to the foreground. Joseph has applied the adjective “stupid” to most everything in his environment over the last week or so. Joseph is above-average in the language department–everyone says so–and he often comes out with things that are the obvious result of having had quality literature read aloud to him for hours and hours out of every week (and sometimes of a single day–we’re on the fourth book of the Chronicles of Narnia already). But stupid? It’s just not that creative an adjective. Some things are stupid but I hope that my children are able to come up with a more descriptive word than “stupid” when they aren’t satisfied with something. I guess it’s up to me. I may not write often enough or well enough to purify the dialect of the masses but I suppose I can take a crack at my own tribe.

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One nice thing about Lent being so long is that it’s almost never too late to begin again. I usually find myself needing to do this five or six times over the course of the forty days no matter what I give up. This year I was so hopeful about my schedule plan because it seemed doable. And what good is penance if you can’t do it? I wrote out a rough copy in my notebook and decided to try it out for the first half-week of Lent before typing it neatly and placing it in my planning notebook. I told myself I would follow this schedule to the letter unless my husband or the children needed me or I was too sick to get out of bed.

Ha. Never say unless. I don’t really get sick all that often and the annual cold that comes around sometime late winter is enough to whine about but it certainly doesn’t keep me in bed. My most recent ailment didn’t keep me in bed, either, but it would have if I hadn’t had children. I was sick like this once before and I spent a couple of weeks in bed that time. I won’t give you all the gory details but I will tell you that mold makes me very, very sick. If I’m completely stressed out it exacerbates the effects of the mold. We’ve cleaned up more mold than I care to think about in the last week or so and I’ve been working on reducing stress in my life. I’m feeling well enough to blog, so I figure I’m well enough to give another go at my Lenten schedule. It’s providential, I think, that I chose this particular discipline for Lent because I think the schedule will really aid in my recovery. It’s balanced and generous but covers all the necessary chores and points of responsibility in my life. Just over a month until Easter. Plenty of time to grow in holiness.

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Patron Saints

Those of you who use Google Reader to keep up with blogs have probably noticed that they are in the business of recommending reading material if your list of subscriptions fails to deliver. Ironic given that my whole reason for using a feed reader in the first place is to avoid blog surfing. But given that many of my favorites have taken Lent off, my box has come up empty more than once and I find myself drifting over to the friendly green box. The recommended blogs are uncannily suited to my tastes and interests–Google is so creepy–and I have to say that I’m glad that I spent awhile with Margaret in Minnesota because she directed her readers to a delightful online ministry.

The Patron Saint of the Year Ministry offers to match you with a saint for the year if you send an e-mail. This is an old custom practiced, apparently, by St. Faustina in her religious community. A bin is maintained of, well, not ALL the saints but as many as can be found, I suppose, and a name is chosen by lot at the start of the year. I think it’s a lovely custom but I can understand how maintaining such a bin might be cumbersome for an individual family. Marianne happily solves this problem by drawing our saint on our behalf.

If you’ve seen my sidebar you already know that my patron for the year is St. Raymond Penafort. I had an immediate connection to St. Raymond. He was an early Dominican friar and the third master general of the order. We are close to the Dominicans here in Washington and knew of him though he is a bit obscure, generally. He was a canon lawyer, a bishop, and is a patron of all things connected to childbirth (we’ll see if that comes in handy this year).

Our family is especially intrigued by this “random” selection process because I e-mailed Eric after receiving my patron and suggested that he acquire one for himself as well. The saint who chose him was St. Peter Nolasco. Never heard of him? I had. I’d just barely finished reading up on my patron when Eric e-mailed me to tell me his so I knew that St. Peter Nolasco was known for his friendship with St. Raymond Pennafort. They founded the Mercedarians who were in the business of redeeming Christians held captive by the Muslims. Interesting. We will look forward to seeing where these two saints take us this year.

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I just can’t decide what to write about because the only news I have is that I’m sick. Sick. Sick. Sick. It’s sort of tempting to write about being sick because I think my case is sort of interesting but, really, I have so little energy that I can’t really stand here at the computer for very long and I can’t really think all that clearly. I know. Pathetic.

Ironic, too. I was all set with my schedule for Lent and it worked great for two days but since Friday morning I haven’t done anything that wasn’t absolutely necessary. Of course the trick to doing nothing that isn’t necessary is doing just enough so that nothing does become necessary.

Anyway, I thought I should check in. Perhaps I’ll have something more intelligent to say soon.

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This sums it up

Thank to Sally at Fine Old Famly for pointing me to this lovely essay on the contemplative vocation of the mother. This sums up, better than I could, what I’m going for with my Lenten discipline.

When I told Eric I was going to make a schedule for Lent he said, “So, basically, you’re going to be a responsible adult for Lent?” He was mostly kidding, I think. I still maintain that many responsible adults live without a strict schedule. They simply have enough virtue to do what needs to be done. But where virtue fails, rules are required. I definitely need a rule this Lent.

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Preparing for Lent

by eating up all the delicious things in my refrigerator. Tonight: pizza with onions, mushrooms, prosciutto, roasted red peppers, and goat cheese. Plus red wine. I’m so glad I made enough for leftovers . . .

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Thinking about Lent

We are just drowning in rain here. The kind of a day when you want to snuggle on your flat futon with both your kids under the White Witch’s cloak* and read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe all the way to the end with a big mug of steaming coffee. Joseph was all about this plan and, fortunately, Eric didn’t need his coffee thermos today so I had the steaming beverage on hand. We were interrupted, however, by Jorge, the best orthopedic equipment technician ever. Then it was lunch and now rest time and the rain is coming down harder than ever so I’ll blog over my lunch (pancakes–isn’t what you eat for lunch on a rainy day?) and watch the cars go by out our bay windows.

*I just realized that I’m confusing two different conversations. I remarked somewhere else recently that Joseph is really enjoying his first trip through Narnia but that the one thing he wanted to re-enact after reading the first few chapters was snuggling under the White Witch’s cloak in which I was honored with the role of Witch and our lovely blue afghan became the cloak. I think Margaret must have been the dwarf in this scenario and, come to think of it, Joseph was the pre-conversion Edmund so none of us fared too well.

I’ve been thinking about Lent for a long time. I kept making January a week short in my mind, thereby bumping up Ash Wednesday considerably which is a funny thing to do in a year when Lent comes almost as early as it possibly can. I like to set my sights high when it comes to penitential practices during Lent because, after all, isn’t Lent all about assured discouragement, dashed hopes, and finding out that you aren’t any more holy during these forty days than the rest of the year? Fasting is a major challenge for me and I know there are many opinions on fasting for pregnant and nursing moms but I’m not sure I can really call myself pregnant or nursing this year. Margaret, after all, does nibble at food from time to time. But she does still nurse quite a bit which helps explain the not pregnant part and I don’t know how to factor that in to my fasting decisions in light of how hard it was for me to fast back in my single days.

Fasting on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday and abstaining from meat on all Fridays during Lent are all that the Church requires of us but it is common to take on extra penitential practices during Lent to help us in overcoming sin and preparing for the great feast of Easter. Our family tries to adopt a spirit of sacrifice during Lent, mostly with regard to food. This year we will be eating the fruits of Soup Week each night. Desserts are out as well (though we’ll have them for Eric’s birthday and the Solemnity of St. Joseph). I always try to add something in the form of extra prayer–this year I’d been giving some thought to more of the Divine Office.

But what to give up? I’m nosy about this topic with others and perhaps I shouldn’t be because it is rather personal. Two categories of “penance” I’ve seen come up often don’t sit well with me. The first is the “my life is already hard” category. This is where I wonder if I’m generous enough about penance when pregnant. After all, I think, I’m already pregnant. I’m throwing up every five minutes and falling over tired every other minute and I can only stomach hot-fudge sundaes. Do I really have to give up something for Lent, too? Well, yes, I think I do. I don’t think having a normally hard life excuses one from growing in virtue though a bit more creativity is probably required in the particulars of penitential practice. The other thing that bugs me is the temptation to give up vices. Of course vices should be shed. I can think of many in my case. What if I gave up nagging my husband for Lent? He’d probably like that. It might even be sacrificial in so far as it would be really difficult to give up nagging. But a penance, I think, should be the giving up of something that is inherently good. The Lord wants our best, our first fruits, in sacrifice. We should be conquering vice all year. Lent is the time to find something good in our life, something we really love and really enjoy, but that is ultimately not necessary and offer it up to the Lord. Sacrificing coffee or chocolate or ice cream sundaes comes to mind here.

All that said, I’m betting that my readers will have differing opinions on the legitimacy of my penance this Lent: I’m going to make a schedule. I kept thinking about all the different things I could add or remove from my life for Lent and I realized that they were all going to be sacrifices of time: more time in prayer, less time on the computer, less time crafting, more time doing the dishes. None of my ideas was working for me as a stand-alone sacrifice and I hit on the idea of making a schedule.

I’m not sure what I think about the relative virtue and vice of having a schedule as opposed to just “going with the flow” (or “flying by the seat of one’s pants” as it more often is around here). Some may disagree (and I would be interested in your thoughts) that a schedule is necessary and an objective good and therefore not a valid penance because I should be working on it year-round. But I suspect that the need for a schedule is more a personality thing. Some people thrive on more rigid schedules and some people thrive on spontaneity or a loose rhythm. If you are the latter and you have the virtue to do what needs to be when it needs doing this can be a great way to live. I am not so virtuous but I keep telling myself that “I’m not a schedule person” because every time I’ve tried a schedule I’ve failed because it’s been, well, hard.

So I’m going to make a schedule and stick to it (with much help from the Lord) for forty days. By Easter I hope to at least have learned something about myself and schedules. This approach will also have the result of increasing my prayer time (because I’ll schedule it) decreasing my computer time (because I’ll schedule it) and simplifying life a great deal, I hope. Free time will also be scheduled–no worries.

Given the realities of life with small children I don’t think I’ll be able to pull off anything too rigid. I plan to take time this weekend to write down the things that must happen at a certain time each day and then peg lists to those times. I’ll likely end up with a morning list, an afternoon list, and an evening list. The lists will be the tasks that need doing in the order I should do them with free time for anything leftover. We’ll see how things shake out as I put this down on paper over the next few days.

What are you giving up for Lent?

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