Minimalism, Fasting, and Meatless Mondays: The Secular World’s Abbreviated Gospel

Minimalism, Fasting, and Meatless Mondays: The Secular World’s Abbreviated Gospel

In my foolishness, sometimes I am more inspired by trends than by the Gospel.

Minimalism is a trend that has been around for a few years.  Whether it involves paring your wardrobe down to a few essential items or selling everything to live in a van, the belief that less is more appears to be appealing to people today.  The reality that minimalism is a trend in a world overrun by material possessions seems to indicate that the Gospel applies to the human person, not simply to the Christian.

There are books that speak about keeping only your cherished items, blog posts galore about capsule wardrobes, and podcasts about how to fully embrace a lifestyle of few possessions.  People speak of how there is freedom that is found in ridding themselves of excess and instead focusing on what is needed.

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.    (Matthew 6:19-21)

This passage from Matthew’s Gospel was read at Mass last Friday for the martyrdom of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher.  After watching a short video clip where a young woman experimented with minimalism, I was struck by how many things in our culture are simply the Gospel repackaged and devoid of Christ.  I don’t believe these trends are a bad thing, but I find it interesting that lifestyles that would ordinarily be considered burdensome gain traction when shown to be an alternative lifestyle.

Another example is fasting or intermittent fasting.  Research done by some scientists indicates that fasting can actually be good for your health.  The different studies and programs encourage people to fast for several hours and increase up to full day fasting.  Interestingly, fasting can now be considered a healthy, trendy choice.  In the Church, fast days are often viewed by the faithful as begrudging days of denial.  For me, mandatory days of fasting are strangely always more difficult than voluntary (or accidental) days of fasting.

Finally, abstaining from meat is also being proposed as something to do for the sake of your health.  Secular advertising suggests that we should embrace “meatless Mondays” so as to help the environment and our bodies.  Some think the Church is irrational for asking adherents to abstain from meat on Fridays, definitely during Lent but encouraged year round.  My students can’t imagine what it would be like to never eat meat on Friday and many profess to forget several times during Lent.  Something seen merely as a duty can be viewed as burdensome, but when it is undertaken for personal health it is manageable. Continue reading “Minimalism, Fasting, and Meatless Mondays: The Secular World’s Abbreviated Gospel”

Holding Up the Falling Apart

How do we transform a culture?

I have very few ideas but I see a great need for it to take place.  When I see the hardened, embittered faces of my students as we have a discussion about something the Church teaches, there is a tendency to despair.  How can these youth of 17 or 18 already have such a distaste for a Church I love so ardently?  It is hard to determine if this is the fruit of their teenage angst and rebellion or if it is the result of a culture that is paganizing our youth right in front of us.

And who is to blame?  I know it isn’t necessary to point the finger.  Maybe it isn’t even helpful.  But there must be someone who is failing which leads to us having this mounting problem.  Is the school failing?  What is the responsibility of the school in regards to nourishing the faith?  Is the parish failing?  How much is the result of poor catechesis from the parish and diocese?  Are the parents failing?  How much is blamed on the parents not modeling the faith for their children and how much is due to their own faulty knowledge of the Church and her teachings?

I don’t know who is mainly to blame but I do know that we all reap the negative consequences of a society that is becoming increasingly pagan.  And if a specific group isn’t doing their expected share, there must be a way for the others to step up and help fill in the gaps.  Obviously it would be ideal for the main education to come from parents who are ardently in love with their faith and on fire for Jesus Christ.  In this ideal world they would also be supported by wonderful extended families, solid priests, evangelizing parishes, and a diocese that takes holiness seriously.  And of course this would include authentically Catholic elementary, middle, and high schools as well as universities and religious orders.

Somewhere, though, the ball is getting dropped.  The result is that I face a classroom full of seniors in high school who already seem jaded and hard-hearted.  (Not all of them, granted.)  It seems almost like a futile effort.  I feel so easily frustrated and hurt when they express a disdain for the Church.  They eye her suspiciously and know that she must be looking for ways to box them in, for ways to steal their joy and fun.  And with this mentality there seems to be little I can do to sway them.

The other day I found myself talking to one of my senior classes about the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.  Their faces were hard and critical.  A few had smug looks or mocking smirks.  My heart ached for them, trapped in their culturally indoctrinated mindset.  How do I reach them?  How do I explain that the Church is not bent on hatred but solely on love?  How can I shatter their misconceptions of the Church?  So I told them that even if they don’t understand what the Church teaches, even if they don’t agree with what the Church teaches, that they strive to believe that the Church loves them and desires the best for them.  She isn’t trying to think of rules to trap them but is giving them guidelines to live in true and authentic freedom.  Trust that she is acting out of love and not like a tyrant.  Because that changes everything.

There is a delicate balance between realizing it doesn’t rely on me and yet desiring enough to do what I can with what the Lord has given me.  Because it is so easy for me to simply chalk the world up to ridiculous and then retreat to my Catholic bubble.  But this world falling apart does affect me.  Even if I try to isolate myself from it all, it will impact my life because it is impacting the world and I live in it.  And hopefully someday I will have kids and I cannot simply tell them to hide from the world for their entire lives.  Jesus said something that seems to contradict that lifestyle.  Something about being light and salt to the world.  The Lord has given me a mission and it is my duty to fulfill that mission to the best of my ability.  So when I try and the world still seems to all fall apart, I can rest in the knowledge that God knows, God cares, and God has a plan.  Even the falling apart is resting in His hands.

The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling

away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.

And look at the other one. It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands

infinitely calm, holding up all this falling. 

Rainer Maria Rilke     

Sensibly Sensitive?

Some words can be used in either a positive or a negative way, depending on the particular situation.  One such word, I believe, is “sensitive.”

“Well, he is such a sensitive guy.  He brought me soup when I didn’t feel well….”

“You are always so sensitive.  I say one little thing and you start crying.”

Yes, I know the context varies greatly but sensitive can be seen both as a desirable characteristic or something that one should try to curb or diminish in oneself.

I have become very sensitive to Halloween and to evil.  That is not to say that I am perfect, that I never do anything bad, or that I have a sixth sense that allows me to sense evil people.  I think, rather, that my sensitive seems to be highlighted simply because so many have become desensitized to evil. 

Just because I dislike something or have a sensitivity to it doesn’t immediately mean that it would be impermissible for anybody else to enjoy it or for it to not be a vice.  However, the culture’s love affair with evil and violence is sickening.  We are conditioning ourselves to not react to things that we should react to.

My hometown has seemed to really dive into celebrating Halloween over the last few years.  When I was younger I was used to seeing the sheets transformed into ghosts, the jack-o-lantern bags filled with leaves, and the fake cobwebs stretched across the decks of different houses in town.  I will admit I could fall into the category of being overly sensitive but the town has seemed to change for the worse. 

Last year, several houses had dramatic scenes staged on their front lawns.  One house we would drive past on the way to Mass and the scene was horrific, even if it was very obvious that it was fake.  The sheet covered mannequins had blood stains and were positioned in different ways.  The most memorable pose to me was of an elderly lady, complete with walker, with a man coming up behind her armed with a chainsaw.  I saw it for weeks and it disgusted me.  One Sunday on the way home with just my mom, I saw it and I just started to sob.  People thought it was fine, humorous even, to stage vicious murders in their front yards.  It literally hurt my heart and I felt sick. 

This year I have battled within myself the desire to look and see their annual bloodbath and yet not wanting to feel sick again.  The glimpses I’ve had revealed someone wielding a sword and one quick glance left me convinced that someone was being tortured on an operating table…but then I was never certain and I was too divided to actually study the scene when we drove by.

I just don’t understand the enticement to evil.  Why is it permissible to glorify the most sadistic acts simply because it is Halloween?  I don’t believe that seeing a lawn display of fake murder will make the children of the town desire to go kill people.  However, I firmly believe that seeing this, repeatedly, and with the view that this is all in good fun, does something to our hearts.  My heart is already stony enough without needing to view funny mock crimes that I don’t at present find particularly funny. 

That sick feeling in the pit of my stomach was not the result of squeamishness or an overactive imagination.  I think it had some connection with just receiving Our Lord in Mass.  Perhaps it was His Heart aching within mine.  Think of the incongruities of this picture: Our Lord, having suffering and died for us, gazing at us with infinite love as we laugh at things that completely strip the human person of their dignity.  It doesn’t praise the goodness of humanity or the goodness of God.  It instills fear and not love.  It brings sickness, not health.

So am I sensitive?  Yes and no.  Sometimes I run over other people and disregard their feelings in the most insensitive ways.  Other times I begin to cry at the drop of a hat.  A sensitivity to evil, though, seems like a good thing.  This is not to mean fearfulness or anxiousness.  Yet a perception to what is not of the Lord can certainly work to draw you nearer to what is of the Lord. 

Who had the most sensitive heart in the world?  Our Lord.  May this stony heart became a new heart, a heart of flesh.  And may St. Michael the Archangel defend us in this battle that rages on earth and help bring us to the glorious victory found in Heaven.

Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.   

Forgive the rant.

Readers, few though you be, excuse the rant that is about to follow.  It will be brief, I promise. 

The other day my mother bought me a pack of gum (isn’t she sweet!) and I was quite glad.  Until I examined the package and I could hardly believe what was being sold, along with chewing gum.  Everything seems to be connected to sex.  But gum?  Yes, indeed.  What is perhaps worse than gum being used to also sell sex is that it isn’t even authentic sex, it is a counterfeit sexual lie. (Hats off to you, Dr. Asci, for that terminology!) 

“Practice safe breath.”  I looked at it again.  Yes, there was no way I reading too much into that line.  In fact, I would be fairly obtuse to not pick up on the blatant allusion.  Dentyne Ice–not very classy.  The most troubling aspect is that I don’t think it is considered to be that controversial.  Perhaps people would think it slightly bad taste to make gum about sex, but I am more concerned that “safe sex” would not be the most objectionable part.  Ready for a lovely night of fornication?  Well, let’s see: gum? Check. Condom?  Check.  Great, ready to go.  Only two prerequisites to a night of enjoyment.  Now everyone is happy.  Ughhh!  So many lies swirling around in our culture.  How can the innocent fight their way through the filth?  Oh, yes, the prayers of their brothers and sisters!  Wonderful idea, Lord.  So—here’s to praying for the conversion of our culture!

P.S. In case the one-line tag wasn’t convincing, Dentyne Ice has a commercial to back up and add to the tasteless advertising. 

Step 1: Watch. 
Step 2: Pray. 

February 20th is the feast of Bl. Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the visionaries at Fatima.  Bl. Jacinta and Francisco–intercede for our culture.  Help us to console the heart of Our Lord!