Well. Although it seems as though everyone else in the bloggy world wrote their "obligatory" Lenten posts somewhere around Ash Wednesday, my dear friends who stop in here from time to time know that there is nothing about this blog that I ever manage to accomplish on time. Thus, the "obligatory" Lenten post....just in time for Laudate Sunday.
Not long ago, I was in the car with my sister-in-law and I was thanking her for arranging a Mass for me, which I had hoped to have offered for a woman in our parish who is currently undergoing treatment for Cancer. I do not know this woman personally, but have become good acquaintances with her sister with whom I take the boys to visit about once a week. Mostly I know of her because of my darling sister-in-law who gives us the updates on how the Cancer treatment is going and how the family is coping. The conversation in the car went something like this:
Me: Thank you for getting that set up for me. I really appreciate it.
Her: You're welcome. But, I'm curious. Was the Mass for her? Or for her sister?
Me: Well, it's for her successful treatment and recovery. But really it's for her and her intentions, so I guess that includes those she loves...
Her: But. Do you even know her? I mean, I don't mean to sound rude or anything, but...
Me: No. I've never met her.
Her: Well then, why did you do that? Is this something you guys are doing for Lent or something?
I'll admit that the conversation caught me a little bit off guard. No, I didn't think she was being rude - I suppose she was just curious. This conversation had taken place not long after I had asked her for some mailing addresses of some older women we had met a couple weeks before at the Catholic Daughters Spring Tea. We sat next to these three little old ladies who were absolutely darling. I had so much fun visiting with them for the two hours we were together that I felt compelled to send them a note thanking them for their company.
Now, to me, there is nothing unusual or strange about this behavior. This is how I was raised. Every birthday, every holiday, every nice encounter left my parents reminding us that "it would be nice to send a note." While the reminders were frequent, it didn't take all that long for me to recognize the value of extending thanks. Or prayers. Or a happy hello. I understood, perhaps also from being the recipient of such graciousness, that knowing they have been thought of brings joy to peoples' days. It lifts up the soul. It lightens whatever load may seem heavy at any given time. I feel that, of the many lessons instilled in me by my parents, this is one of the most important.
Lent is one of those times of the year that lends an excuse, of sorts, to our behaviour - or our perception of other peoples' actions. Someone turns down a piece of birthday cake? Couldn't possibly be because they aren't hungry or perhaps are trying to be prudent - it must be because they gave it up for Lent. The HAVE to avoid it. You see someone at daily Mass who typically isn't there? Must be because they made a Lenten commitment - they HAVE to be there. I worry, sometimes, that the season of Lent allows us to steal the virtue of others....steal their striving for holiness....and replace it with an excuse of Catholic tradition.
I'm not pairing these thoughts with my conversation in the car to say anything about my sister in law. She's wonderful - loving and generous in many ways that I am not. It's just that our conversation got me to thinking. There are many things, such as sending these cards and letters, that come naturally to me because they have been ingrained in me from a young age. In my world, this is What You Do. It is nothing to be proud or boastful about, as sometimes it comes simply more out of rote action than out of sincere charity and generosity. Yet the fruits of this action are always the same regardless of the motivation.
We all went to daily Mass yesterday to celebrate my Father-In-Law's birthday, and who did we run into but one of the sweet little old ladies with whom I fell in love a few weeks ago at the Tea. She caught us after Mass, pulled me aside, and with tears in her eyes, told me how touched she was to receive the little card that I had sent to her. Her Thank You, her tenderness and thoughtfulness, brought tears to my own eyes. My own heart was warmed. And, even though there's probably a 50 year age difference, a new friendship was formed - all because of kindnesses exchanged.
For Lent this year, one of the many Personal Issues I'm Working On is to take those kindnesses that come so naturally, that are (for whatever reason) so easily exchanged with outsiders and to apply them to my most personal relationships. This past year has been a very challenging one indeed and while I've tried really REALLY hard to maintain a positive exterior, my interior self has become muddied with frustration, anger, and confusion. In my many attempts to solve the problems we've faced or to persuade others to work harder. or faster. or more diligently to solve them, I realize that the one thing I HAVE NOT done in all of this time is to ask the Lord how He would have me deal with these challenges. How He would have me be supportive and loving and encouraging to those who are closest to me. When I finally realized this the other night, I was simultaneously kicking myself for a WHOLE FREAKING YEAR of being such a TWIT and rejoicing at FINALLY understanding how to deal with this challenge.
It's always my hope that my Lenten observation will "take." I'd love for a nightly Rosary to REALLY become a pattern. My gums would love it if my commitment to floss every day would last much past Easter. The scale under my feet would be THRILLED if I could lay off chocolate all year 'round! But perhaps this one is the most important. Let's hope that this Lent will be the most fruitful one yet. For all of us.