Tag Archives: Lenten Intentions

Understanding Our Dustiness

You are dust and to dust, you shall return.

Each time I hear this phrase at Ash Wednesday, I think of a little prayer that was given to me by a sister a while ago. It was created by St. Jeanne Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, as a member of the Third Order of the Admirable Mother.

My Lord Jesus Christ
I am nothing,
I can do nothing.
I have nothing but sin.
I am a useless servant, by my nature a child of wrath.
The last of all creatures and the first of sinners.
To me therefore shame and confusion
and to You alone honor and glory forever and ever.

Without some reflection, Lent can start out by me feeling pretty worthless. While it is important that we are reminded of our lowliness from time to time, sometimes I dwell too much on my dustiness. As Lent progresses and I start to fail at my resolutions, it seems that I just live up to the words spoken at the beginning of the season. What are we supposed to do with the reminder that we are undeserving and contemptible? How do we make the correlation between the nothingness of ourselves and Christ, on the cross? We must own our dustiness and discover how we are precious at the same time.

Our Creator is wise because in many cases where construction or growth is involved, the dirt is a good place to start. Though we are simple, our gift of free will allows us to sin. Our bodies age and decay, merely going back into the ground. As is the trend with God, the lowest material was chosen. He then allowed us to retain His image. The result was a body and a soul that held so much potential but in so much need of guidance and aid.

We are precious because of our capacity to so desperately need God and to reflect His image at the same time. We belong to God in every way, and nothing in this universe harmonizes as much as a soul and its Creator.  He rejoices when we cry, “Lord, I need you so much. I have so little understanding and ability”.  It is an intimate moment when we recognize Christ as our perfect home. We were made to intensely desire Him. Lent is a time to rediscover our worth by forgetting false hopes and embracing our emptiness. If we know we are barren, Christ can enkindle His light and grace in us so that we can reflect Him as our souls were fashioned to.

Christ even became empty in every sense of the word just so we would have a blatant example to follow. What if we did simple things to gradually join Him at His crucifixion? If we echo the cross, will we not echo pricelessness? We will never be alone because He did it first. He waits for us every hour of every day, especially when His sacrifice is magnified each time at Mass.

So for Lent maybe we can simply make a little list of ways to crucify ourselves with Jesus. That imagery may be difficult to picture, but in the true meaning of the phrase, we can drain ourselves of pride, close our eyes to the attention of the world, or understand the pain of others. When we fail, we can be happier still because it will give us another opportunity to tell Christ how much we thirst for Him, as He does for us.

If you need a little help with a crucifixion list, here’s one I put together.


Lent: A Time for Building Habits

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”

Will Durant

Thus Will Durant sums up Aristotle’s theory of virtue.

It is a deft statement, encapsulating as it does the essence of the classical view of the point of life (excellence or virtue) and the path to it (disciplined action based on right reason).
For us, living the Christian life, we have a slightly different view of the goal of life. Instead of the classical stoic ideal of virtue for its own sake, our virtue exists for the sake of a relationship with a Being outside ourselves. This Being, of course, is God. We pursue virtue not simply because that is the path to the full, ideal life (it is that), but even more because it is our imitation and worship of the God whom we love, who first loved us.
However, the ancient philosophers were not far off when they insisted upon a consistent, disciplined plan of life as the path to virtue. Of course, our model of perfect virtue is higher than theirs, so much so as to be absolutely unattainable by human effort, and we must rely wholly on grace to raise us to that level of holiness. However, a plan of life is still necessary for a couple of reasons.
  • First, human assent to God’s will is both a result and a means of grace. That is, a result of God’s grace is the ability to live a virtuous life, but the active response to that grace is the ordinary means whereby God chooses to open our hearts to yet more grace.discipline-poster
  • Secondly, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, part of the point of striving to live a life of virtue is precisely in order to fail, and thereby to drive home the point that we cannot be virtuous on our own. It is usually only through trying and failing that we are forced into total reliance on God.

Now, the goal of becoming a Saint is not only incredibly ambitious, it is also largely unmeasurable. A saint is, of all people, the one person who is least sure that he is a saint, and most aware that he is a sinner. Thus, “becoming a Saint,” while commendable, is nto really useful as a plan of life. When I speak of a plan of life I mean a specific daily plan that is measurable and achievable every day. I also mean something that is long-term, (i.e. lifelong), something that can become a habit which changes us over time into people more in love with and more dependent on God.

lewis quoteEven the longest journey has to start somewhere. If we want to build a virtuous habits, there must come a day, an hour, and a minute when we start performing virtuous actions, with the intention of continuing to perform them the next day, and the next and the next. What better time to start a new habit than lent?

Accordingly, this is the plan of life that I am going to implement this lent:

  1. Daily Prayer: This is a set duration of time which is set aside every day for talking with God and listening to Him. There is no multi-tasking during prayer time. There is no “time management.” The point of time management is so that I will have this time for God (the same is true of family time).
  2. Daily Study: This is a commitment to a little bit of reading every day. It is not necessarily “useful” reading (such as professional journals) but reading that will stretch my intellect, imagination or heart. This can include philosophy, theology, history, fiction, poetry, and a host of other genres. Realistically much of it will be in the form of listening to audio books in the car.
  3. Daily Training: This is my commitment to use my body to glorify God in some way every day. I already workout most days, but this need not be limited to fitness training. Some people will use their bodies to glorify God by practicing some hobby such as knitting, singing, dancing, painting, or fixing small engines.
  4. Daily Self-denial: The biggest obstacle to the growth in holiness is self-will. To combat this, every day I need to deny my will in some way, by giving up some good thing that I want to do.
  5. Daily Act of Charity: Of course we are supposed to live in Charity every moment of every day, but I, for one, do not. In the vein of “it has to start somewhere” I commit to performing one act of charity every day.

Of course these raise the question, “What’s so hard or revolutionary about that? Aren’t those things that you should be doing every day, not just during lent?”

The answer is that there is nothing revolutionary about this plan, and it is all stuff I should be doing every day. However, sadly, I do not. I need to start. I must take the first step, and that is what I will do this lent, by the Grace of God.

For more details on this plan and how it fits into my larger view of the Plan of Life, visit The New Chivalry Project.

Duke’s Porn Star and Pope Francis’ Lenten Intentions

dukePope Francis’ Lenten message for 2014 calls all Catholics to confront destitution in its varying forms of extreme poverty, spiritual destitution, and moral destitution. He writes: “Moral destitution…consists in slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families because one of their members – often a young person – is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography!”

I thought of this when I recently read about the Duke University student who turned to adult films to pay for her college tuition. Her work under the name “Belle Knox” was found out when another student on campus watched one of her films and recognized her. He confronted her about it on campus. “Belle” asked him to keep it under wraps but within a few days the “gentleman” spread word to all the fraternities on campus.

As word spread, this young woman was left with the choice to retreat or proudly stand by her chosen line of work. She chose the latter. “Belle” wrote an article for the online magazine xoJane defending her activity as a sex worker and responded to criticism with articulate, at times astute, and at other times quite baffling, arguments.

It is, perhaps, in her vocal, articulate defense of her activity that the media has found the shock value of her situation. She wrote in her article for xoJane.com: “For me, shooting pornography brings me unimaginable joy. When I finish a scene, I know that I have … completed an honest day’s work. It is my artistic outlet: my love, my happiness, my home.”

The media reaction to this young woman’s activity has been at turns laudatory, critical, and patronizing. But what has been most interesting to me is the lack of interest or criticism for the young man who “outed” her. In fact, the male student’s full name was used in the earliest articles that can be found on the subject without the slightest concern for his well being or future ability to land a job (something people are concerned about in respect to “Belle”).

It seems American society has begun to accept porn watching as normal and expected in a radical way. But most of us still draw the line at participating in porn, which very clearly reveals a hypocritical double standard. A double standard that does not only apply to young women.

A young, male senior in high school was recently suspending from school for participating in an adult film in order to pay his mother’s bills. Major outlets covered the news. This incident, like Belle’s case, was discovered by fellow students. However, in both Belle’s case and the young man’s case, the media seem generally unconcerned that the pornographic consumption at both Duke and this young man’s high school was so high that out of all the adult films that are out there, their activity was discovered within what seems to be a very short amount of time.

More shocking to me than teenage pornography use and participation in pornography is adult indifference to the problem. This laissez-faire approach to the problem of pornography is seen virtually everywhere. In an otherwise insightful op-ed on the subject at the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus writes:

“It would be naive to expect that [Belle’s classmates], like thousands of teenage boys, don’t spend some computer time on activities other than studying. Fine. Boys will be boys, and girls too, for that matter. What should concern us is the extreme nature of the content they’re viewing and the way that inevitably seeps into their attitudes toward real-life sex.”

Really? We should only be concerned about this growing trend of young people participating in pornographic films and watching pornography if the sex that is depicted is extreme?

As we carry this story and this societal problem in our hearts during this Lent, I encourage everyone to pray both for “Belle” and other men and women who participate in the porn industry, as well as those who are caught up in temptations to or addiction to porn.

I am thankful that against the tide of “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls” we have many Christians who, rooted in their belief in the saving power of Jesus, proudly declare “Pornography is not normal. Pornography is not healthy. Pornography is not empowering. Power and freedom is found not in doing what is wrong and unhealthy for ourselves, others and society as a whole, but in doing what is good, what is truly empowering and what is in line with the true meaning and beauty of sexuality.”

Some resources and further information:

  1. Bishop Loverde of the Arlington diocese in Virginia wrote a beautiful pastoral letter, Bought with a Price, on the issue of pornography with a foreword written by Matt Fradd, author of Delivered. You can access the PDF of the bishop’s pastoral letter here.
  2. Check out Integrity Restored, a Catholic online resource for men addicted to porn.
  3. Check out xxxChurch.com, a Christian online resource for those addicted to porn and for men and women who desire to leave the industry. This is a great article about the founder of the site and his unlikely friendship with Ron Jeremy, one of the world’s most famous porn stars.
  4. The archdiocese of Washington has a great list of resources for pornography addiction on their web site. The diocese of Wichita also has a lot of resources.
  5. Annie Lobert, runs Hookers for Jesus, an organization that supports sex workers who want to leave the industry as well as women and children who have been sex trafficked. In this moving video, she describes how she got caught up in prostitution and how she escaped.

This is only a drop in the bucket; if you know of more resources or further information, please add to the comments.

May your Lent continue to be blessed.

Don’t forget to pray, make sacrifices and work in response to the intentions of Pope Francis’ Lenten Message!