Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the March 20, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)
Even decades into the annual observance of its penitential spirit, the Lenten season still brings back memories of Halloween. You see, every Eve of All Hallows used to find my seven brothers and me combing the neighborhoods of our little home town with a high sense of competition. While classmates may have busied themselves with the waxing of windows and other such pranks, we scurried about, bagging as much candy as we could. It was not a question of “paper or plastic” for us. We used pillow cases! And the townsfolk were most generous in response to our pleas to “trick or treat.” At the end of our festive eve we gleefully would wave our bulging catch in one another’s faces as we entered into the song and dance of braggarts. “Look how much I got!”
Halloween somehow would rapidly blend into Lent in our Catholic family – it probably took the intervening time to eat all that candy! And the eight of us found ourselves bagging candy once again. This time we had to forego the pillow cases, but our smaller bags bulged all the same. It was our practice to “give up candy for Lent.” After all, we were following the childhood tradition of doing something awfully hard for Lent. Just try telling children they can’t have any candy for 40 days!
The Lenten competition was won by the brother who bagged the most candy (that is, didn’t eat what he been given, purchased or lifted from the bowl on the kitchen counter). Stuffed bags were waved in one another’s faces on Sunday afternoons as the Lenten torture extended into weeks. “Look what I have saved!” And a version of the Halloween dance would rock the living room.
Come Easter Sunday morning – after Mass and chores, of course – we gorged ourselves with the product of our discipline. In our case, we truly could save our candy and eat it, too!
Had someone called us hypocrites at the time, we would have been angered and hurt. Angered because no one dared call one of the Town Terrorists a “hypocrite”! Hurt, because our good Catholic intentions were drawn into question. After all, we quite faithfully were engaged in a very traditional Catholic Lenten penance for children. And it really was difficult not to snitch some of the sweet stuff along the way.
Looking back, I have to admit that we were hypocrites. Not blatantly so, but hypocrites all the same. In our childhood innocence we were doing more or less what we were taught to do for Lent by equally well-intentioned parents and catechists. Our hypocrisy was more the variety of what Jesus called the “yeast of the Pharisees” in a recent Sunday Gospel reading. With hindsight, we know how the Pharisees used to pride themselves on the execution of their spiritual exercises. They were the spiritual candy baggers of their day. “Look what we have done!” would be their brag. Undoubtedly, they must have bristled to have their practices labeled hypocrisy by the Lord. In their spiritual inattentiveness and pride they had slipped into subtle forms of self-righteousness.
Blatant hypocrisy is always relatively easy to spot, confront and correct. This subtle stuff – like yeast – is hardly discernible until it has done its deed. Puffed up by its presence, victims often see themselves as being on track and doing the right thing.
As we make our way through yet another season of Lent, the Word of God again cautions us against hypocrisy. The smudge we wore on Ash Wednesday and the penance which have started to mark our lives these 40 days cannot be measured by the success of our self-discipline. We hope we have the spiritual maturity to recognize that our candy-bagging – or anything similar to it – does not impress God. It should not impress ourselves. Or anyone else, either.
In that light, the penance in which the Lord has called us to engage during this season of grace is not the traditional kind we already may have set for ourselves or, God forbid, have encouraged in one another. An honest listening to the work of the Holy Spirit would reveal to us what new life God seeks to effect as we prepare for the joyous dance of Easter. Midway through the season at this point, would benefit from a reminder that Lent is not a time to do something brave for God; rather, it is a time to let God do something in and for us – namely, make us one with the dying and rising of Jesus. Such a penitential path is more difficult and challenging to embrace than bagging the likes of candy, but it is the only one that leads to true life.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of the parishes in Oakesdale, Rosalia, St. John, and Tekoa, and serves the diocese as Moderator of the Curia.)
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