Thursday, February 26, 2009

Doing The Math

Today's Word:
Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (Set before you is the choice of life and death; the blessing and the curse. Choose life)
Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4 & 6 (Blest are they who delight in the law of the Lord)
Luke 9:22-25 ("What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?")

There are 45 days left until Easter.

WAIT A MINUTE!! Lent began yesterday, and that's only supposed to be 40 days, so there should only be 39 days until Easter, right? Where did the other six days come from???

Well, according to my Catholic sources, Sundays don't count. Sundays are always observed as a "mini" Easter, even during Lent. Since there are six Sundays remaining (five named in Lent and Palm Sunday), that brings us to 40.

If Sundays don't count (according to the Church), then I don't have to maintain the disciplines I set for the season on Sundays, right?

Well...the answer is both no, you don't; and yes, you do. The big rules (fast and abstinence) don't apply to Sundays (just Ash Wednesday and Fridays). However, the character of the Sundays in Lent are fit to the season, and not as set on the joy of the resurrection or the 'ordinary' teachings of Jesus. They're a bit more intense. In the Catholic Mass, the "Gloria", the hymn of praise, along with the use of the word "Alleluia" is deliberately omitted. It's generally accepted that you shouldn't take one day out of the week to undo whatever personal discipline(s) you've decided on, so...

You thought you bought into this for forty days, and you discover that it's now forty-six. Hmmm...some people are probably claiming 'Foul!' about now. What's so special about the number 40, anyway?

Well, the number 40 appears at least twice in the Old Testament. Noah was cooped up in his floating zoo for forty days and nights. The Israelites spent forty years wandering in the desert after they left Egypt because they disobeyed God.

So it would seem that 40, while a finite number, represents something like infinity. Don't get me wrong. In these days I can blow through 40 bucks in the blink of an eye. Forty minutes can pass quickly. But When you're waiting for the rains to stop and the flood to subside, or wandering aimlessly in the desert, or going without basic necessities, or when your life or someone's you love are in danger, forty anything can seem like forever. It's that sense of 'forever' that gives this season its character.

A priest I knew and worked with years ago had the bad habit of smoking cigarettes. He was a chain smoker and OCD as well, which complicated matters. Every year he would attempt to quit smoking during Lent. The subsequent period got progressively worse for anyone on his staff, so much so that by Week Three they'd all be praying he'd abandon his quest - which, sadly, he usually did; twenty to twenty-five days after starting. That's what I mean by that sense of 'forever.'

In the end, it's faith, prayer, determination and baby steps - including taking a moment to happily note your progress, and being thankful for it - that gets you through the seeming eternity of these next forty-five days. By then, as was commented on an earlier post, the behavior patters are better cemented in place.

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