By Jim O'Leary
An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.
Feb. 11, 2002
I love Lent.
Someday I am sure there will be a theology student who will do a doctoral thesis on the paradox of how Christians can actually enjoy a season of penance. It is a worthy question.
My own reason for liking Lent is the same reason I like my bathroom scales. It keeps me honest, humble, and guilty. Without doing a doctoral thesis on the matter, I did present to many people the question "Do you like Lent? If so, why?"
The responses are hereby presented to you.
Theresa Mader is a public high school teacher, originally "an Army brat" from Dallas. She first came to South Texas with the Jesuit Volunteers fresh out of college and taught at Catholic elementary schools in Robstown, Texas, just south of Corpus Christi.
"I love Lent because it is a time to start over. I don't have to make New Year's resolutions. I make Lenten resolutions.
"I usually do a better job keeping them because it is for a shorter, set period of time. And then it's easier to continue with them. I also try making resolutions that will make me a better person spiritually, emotionally, physically, etc.
"I also love all the smells, bells, and rituals of Lent. My absolute favorite Mass to go to is the Easter Vigil. I love all the Old Testament salvation history readings and all the symbols: fire, light, water, oil, etc. I know that the Easter Vigil isn't Lent strictly speaking, but it's hard for me to dissociate Easter Vigil from Lent."
Jan Dorsey has a doctorate in psychology, a daughter who teaches first grade with Americorps in East LA, and a son who is a senior in high school. She is noted for her hearty laugh.
"I really love Lent. It's a time to start the whole year over again. It gives me time to reflect on Jesus' upcoming suffering and death and what that means to me.
"It gives me time to make religious resolutions, like reading the Bible or saying the Rosary every day. Doing things like this again are kind of like spring time, and the way it makes you feel is like a rebirth.
"It gives me another chance to practice self-denial and develop will-power. I guess character is built by different kinds of self-denial."
Mark D. O'Leary is my nephew and a practicing attorney. He is also a pilot for Northwest Airlines. He lives in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Mark is my brother Paul's son and Mark's beautiful mother, Betty Bergquist, was a native of Dassel, the daughter of Alrick and Laura Bergquist. Mark's uncle Marvin Bergquist still lives in Dassel and has been a passenger on one of Mark's planes more than once.
Mark has the best seat in the house as an airline pilot. He says, "Lent is like a South Texas horizon, at sunrise glorious things are ahead of you."
Father Patrick Reardon is a priest of the Orthodox Church and the author of "Christ in the Psalms." He is also pastor of a Russian Orthodox parish in Chicago.
"Lent is special because Christians from the fourth century onwards were very convinced that it was rooted in the time and teachings of the Apostles themselves . . . the fasting from substantial foods, like meat and dairy products, became accompanied by other practices of restraint to encourage concentration on the things of God and the health of the soul.
"For example, many Christians forswear television during this season. There is a stricter seasonal regimen, of which an important component is giving more time and attention to the study of Holy Scripture."
Amy Gibbs was named Texas Social Worker of the Year for 2001, a complete surprise to her, but not to those of us who have the privilege of knowing her. She graduated from Texas Lutheran College in Seguin, Texas, and then got her masters degree in social work from Our Lady of the Lake in San Antonio (the same place where I got my MSW). She still lives and works in Seguin as director of social services at Guadalupe Valley Hospital.
She says of Lent:
"It's my favorite season of the church year. I used to tour with my college choir for 10-14 days every Lent, and we would go to Lutheran churches and perform . . . all across the US.
"I associate Lent with the oneness of all of us Christians. Because of that experience, and the experiences I had growing up, where our three Methodist churches, which include the Spanish speaking church and the African American Methodist church, met together and continue to meet together every Wednesday night during Lent.
"The blending of the cultures in viewing Jesus, His word, and His life . . . to me that is what Christianity is all about.
"During Lent, the focus is on the life of Christ and it reminds us to focus on what kind of example we give, and to reevaluate it constantly to see if we are modeling our lives after Christ or merely going through the motions. Our hospital chaplain said it best to me one time: 'It is easy to love the loveable. It is not so easy to love those we don't like.'
"On my mother's refrigerator, she has a saying, 'People need loving the most when they deserve it the least.' That's another reminder to me of what Lent's all about."
Anne Dean Mackintosh is a teacher in New Jersey and a friend of Jeanne's. She reminds us that Lent means spring. She likes Lent "because of its promise of warmth and growth and new life emerging in this wonderful season."
Another lady says she likes the Easter candy, but doesn't want her name used because she thinks it sounds childish. She said she loved Lent while growing up Catholic because it meant she would get to eat chocolate candy at the end, and lots of it.
My wife Jeanne, surrounded by five brothers, remembers her aunt Elsie Kleinschnitz giving them all bags of candy at the end of Lent, and that one Easter, Jeanne made off with the entire supply, climbed a hill near her house in St. Paul to hide ou,t and didn't come back down the hill until she had consumed the entire hoard, a perfect crime which remains unsolved until this very day.
Another entry comes from Sylvia Hinojosa Allen who lives in Laredo, Texas, where she works as a nurse.
She says her grandmother Isabel taught her this was the time to be grateful to God for His love for us. It was a time of penance, no meat, no cartoons, no secular music and a time for the retelling of the Jesus story:
"Our basic attitude in Lent is gratitude. We have survived winter and the hope of spring is all about us. Soon we will be enjoying summer and harvest, and we are likely to forget who we are and why we are here. I know especially in Lent that I am loved, loved enough for Somebody to die for me."
Dr. Terry Dosh of Minneapolis, editor of "Bread Rising," simply says, "Without the crucifixion, no resurrection. Without Lent, no Easter. How can we lose? Give us Lent. Easter is forever."
Mary Christmas, library consultant for the public school district in Corpus Christi, says:
"I love Lent because it is quiet a retreat in the middle of the year.
The Liturgy seems to slow down and become more solemn. Music changes mode. Lent gives us permission not to be 'up' all the time . . . the pressure is off. Most of the year we feel obligated to cover our tracks, hide our mistakes, not let others see our flaws, foibles, and imperfections.
"Lent forces us to be honest, not just with ourselves, but also with others. For the brief 40 days, we make a conscious effort to allow the light of Christ to shine on us and bring out what is hidden in darkness, that we may be healed.
"The healing comes from the knowledge that we are loved . . . warts and all . . . love that is unconditional and faithful. We cannot escape from a love like that.
"'Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow.' (Is 1:17-19) We surrender in love and trust, and let God fashion and form us into a more perfect image of Christ the Son. It feels so good to be born anew."
Another nephew of mine, Dr. Dennis P. O'Leary, says "The only thing to like about Lent is the possibility, however remote, of some day going to Brazil for Mardi Gras."
A young mother, who doesn't want her name used, told me this: "I love Lent because it challenges me to sacrifice more, not just for my loved ones, but for all the people of the world whom I don't even know. I offer up my pain and suffering for others" (Side note: This lady has five inoperable tumors on her spinal cord and the pain is so intense that she is on morphine 24/7.)
She says "There is a helluva lot to offer up."
Alice J. Hudson, a sometime winter Texan and a resident of Washburn, Wis. says, "What I like about Lent are two things number one, it is a really good reason to give up something and stick with it. Last year I gave up bread and dropped 10 pounds. And number two, when Lent comes, can spring be far behind?
This year Alice didn't come South, and is still in Wisconsin where it has finally turned really cold. Washburn is on Lake Superior.
Alice is a grandmother several times over, and counts among her favorite offspring my grandniece, Kaitlin O'Leary, and my grandnephew, Ross O'Leary, who says he is giving up drugs for Lent. ("Just kidding, Uncle Jim!")
My nephew, Tom O'Leary, is their father, and John and Jean O'Leary's youngest.
A cousin of mine in Florida, Mary Pat O'Leary, likes Lent for the opposite reason. She doesn't give up bread but continues to support her local bakery.
"Lent is the time when you can get those neat hot cross buns the bakery doesn't make any other time of year. Oh, Lent also puts a fresh face on my appreciation of all that's been available to me in my life, all that's been sacrificed for me down through the years, and all the work and sacrifice still due from me in return."
Part of Mary Pat's work is putting out an O'Leary family newsletter called "Cousin-to-Cousin Courier." She even has pictures in it.
Jim Fitzgerald, a writer friend of mine, says:
"What I like about Lent is that it does not last forever. Lent has a happy ending. And heaven lasts forever."
Matt Moosbrugger is recently married and is Jeanne's nephew. He and his wife, Tracy, live in Minneapolis and work in the world of accounting. He is everybody's favorite nephew, not just Jeanne's:
"I know I love the feeling of making it through Lent when I have successfully kept my Lenten resolutions. I am proud of the fact that most Catholics observe Lent in some form or other. Lent does seem to unite Catholics a little bit anyway, especially on Ash Wednesday when we all go around with black foreheads."
Dr. James W. Presley, friend and author from Texarkana, Texas, says it is too bad there are no Cliff Notes for Lent. He thinks we are too much on our own when it comes to Lent, but Lent is more than anything else a time for seeking God.
Advent is too frantic. So far "they" have not yet found a way to commercialize and corrupt Lent and Easter the way "they" have ruined Advent and Christmas when most of us are too busy to think.
Pat Helin of Minneapolis recently retired from teaching in public schools as a special education specialist. She toured Ireland with us in 1998. Like Ireland itself, Pat is almost too good to be true. She says:
"I got this from the spiritual writer Jim Bitney in his book 'Sunday by Sunday' 'Lent is a season for winter hearts to melt, regenerate, and turn . . . refreshed, renewed and reborn to our commitment as Easter people.'
"I like Lent much better as a retired person. Now I can pray at 8 a.m. when I am fully alert, rather than after a workday when I would sit down to meditate and then fall asleep. Lent gives me the impetus to put more time and thought into praying."
Stephanie Myers is a neighbor who has six children ranging in age from 11 to one. She is active in two parishes and in the Corpus Christi, Texas, Harbor Playhouse, where she both acts and directs.
Recently she starred as the Baker's Wife in "Into the Woods" and directed "Master Class." Her daughter, Sarah, was one of the dancers in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat." Every time I walk past their house I see a sign on the front lawn: Student of the week: St. Pius X School.
Her husband, Scott, is the drummer for the youth Mass at St. Pius, an activity I hope he gives up for Lent. Scott worked for Koch Refinery in St. Paul, and was transferred to Corpus Christi not long ago.
Stephanie says: "My daughter Sarah was born on Ash Wednesday . . . so that's why we love Lent. Lent also helps us, at least to try, to focus spiritually and slow down. We thought of doing the classes at the Cathedral and then thought of doing the classes on the Psalms at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
I've finally decided to do stuff at home with at least a Rosary every day. (Or maybe once a week? I am pretty busy.)"
Ricky Stevens is another nephew of Jeanne's. He lives in Columbus, Ohio and works in the world of finance:
"I always give up alcohol for Lent (except for St. Patrick's Day of course) . . . I also would like to give up politics for Lent so perhaps you might give up sending me e-mails. Give my love to Aunt Jeanne."
Dennie Hodge is a realtor in Houston. She says she loves Lent because all Catholics go to Mass on Ash Wednesday. "They seem to think it's a Holy Day of Obligation. Let's hope they continue to think so."
The last word should belong to Mark Link, S.J., who reminds us, quoting the prophet Joel, that Lent is the time when we must "let our broken heart show forth our sorrow."
That sorrow will end in rejoicing when we can shout with the Russian Orthodox: "Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!"
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