Lent is here and the defining activities of the season, the two by which the season is best known–fasting and abstinence–are the parts of the Christian life at which I've never excelled. "Never excelled" is probably too lenient. I've barely done abstinence and have been almost a complete failure at fasting.
These forty days before Easter being a time of reflection, I offer this grade card for my life as a Catholic over the past 23 years:
Mass Attendance: A+
Scapular Wearing: A
Indulgence Seeking: B
Regular Confession: C+
Prayer Life: C-
Unrequired Abstinence: D
In the area of Mass attendance, you might wonder how one could rate an A plus. You might be thinking that any Catholic who gives himself an A+ for anything is probably overlooking something. But, the category is for Mass Attendance not Mass Attentiveness or Agreeableness During Masses Prolonged by Special Announcements.
Strictly by attendance, I get an A and the plus is for having been a server at the traditional Mass, which isn't the shuffling-around-the-altar affair that it is at many vernacular masses. If you don't know what you're doing as a server at the Latin Mass, there's no hiding it.
It all starts to slide downhill from there, though. I do the easy stuff fairly well. The scapular is a no-brainer. If wearing a prayer in the form of a brown piece of wool around my neck for the rest of my life will ensure my escape from the flames of Hell, then I'm wearing it. Similarly, if making the Stations of the Cross or simply saying "My Lord and My God" at the elevation is going to get me the indulgences I need to escape the sufferings of Purgatory, I am so there.
Once we start moving into the categories where will-power is needed beyond participation, though, I start to slide. I've been both hot and cold about confession and prayer through my years as a Catholic, and I've managed to only meet the minimums in alms-giving and required abstinence. I've gotten better in the past year with unrequired abstinence, but I would still rate myself low, overall.
But, fasting is where it really falls apart. Until last year, I don't think I had ever managed a decent Ash Wednesday fast. I always went in with good intentions but some years I would cave in by the late afternoon and other years in the early evening. Last year, I managed a pure will-power-assisted-by-black-coffee fast. True, having coffee might not be strictly fasting, but in helping me leave the food behind, it was a step in the right direction.
This year, I decided it might be easier for me if I broke it down by calories. I reasoned that if I was allowed one meal, plus two smaller meals not to equal one meal, that that would equal something less than two-thirds of my normal caloric intake. And, so, I allowed myself to eat when I wanted to, but only up to that calorie limit. It did seem somewhat more like dieting than fasting, and I still relied too heavily on black coffee but, again, it was a step in the right direction. Something was given up these past two years as opposed to previous years when nothing was given up.
In my life outside the blogosphere, I am a teacher. During the past fourteen years, I taught high school special education for ten years and have been in general remediation for struggling students for the past four.
It's a joke about special education kids that they often ride the "short bus" because they have special needs that prevent them from riding the regular bus with their regular education peers (it's not particularly kind or empathetic, but I've always told my students
they have to be able to take the world as the less than empathetic place
that it is and rise above it). To say someone is "riding the short bus" has come to mean that they are stupid or otherwise incapable.
Well, save me a seat on the Lenten short bus. My consolation is that I know it will arrive where the other buses are going, eventually.