Like one of my email friends said, Ash Wednesday has "snook up" on me, too. I still have Christmas music rolling around in my mind, it seems, and here, today, we begin the hymns of penance and sorrow for our sins.
Lent is a season for prayer, penance, and works of service. My prayer life is getting a hard start. It seems as if this week a multitude of prayer needs have come to me, via email or personal conversation. Hank's heart surgery was Monday - Steph's pneumonia hasn't responded to treatment - another friend knows someone with MRSA - a friend's romantic relationship isn't what it ought to be - another suffers terrible food allergies - - -
Just what I don't want to do: pray for other people! I'd much rather wallow in the self-indulgence of my own disappointment than take my eyes off myself and look at the sorrows of others! I want their prayers, not to exert myself for them!
It's cute and clever to joke about giving up chocolate for Lent, but the real issue is the one I've been confronting this whole past week: self-denial, not in petty indulgences like chocolate, but in real issues of egotism and selfishness.
Thankfully, I've begun spiritual direction from a retired priest settled in this area. Fr. John has recommended I begin with reading St. Augustine, and so I've dug out the Confessions for my Lenten devotional reading. I loved Augustine when I was in college, twenty years ago. I'll ask him, when I see him next week, about St. Francis de Sales, whose Introduction to the Devout Life had caused me to seek him out in the first place.
I know, too, that during this Lenten season I shall have to take a deep breath and pay a visit to a couple of the more difficult and unpleasant people in my life. I've been procrastinating for so long, they may throw me out of the house before I can do more than say hello. I shall try not to take personally, or hold a grudge against, any ugliness that might arise in the course of our time together.
It is, after all, about killing that self-centered bit of the ego - or is it the Id at this point? Let it be crucified with Christ -