I read a useful idea on Twitter from Father Cassidy Stinson, who uses the handle @TheHappyPriest. He said: “Pro tip: if you’re not sure what to do for Lent, start by thinking about the themes of your last confession. How can you tailor your penance or practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to help you grow in the opposing virtues?”
I had to admit, the things that I was considering doing for Lent didn’t have much in common with the things that I tend to bring to confession over and over and over again. There was nothing wrong with the little penitential plan I had come up with, but there wasn’t much overlap between it and the sins I (allegedly) struggle with day to day, year after year.
I say “allegedly” because if I were really struggling with them and trying hard to use the graces of confession to give them up, why would I not seize up on the opportunity of Lent to really focus on those exact sins? HMMM. It’s almost as if I didn’t want to give up … the things I didn’t want to give up.
This is not some brand-new flaw that I invented all by myself. Most of us are very adept at compartmentalizing our lives. I’m describing compartmentalization within my spiritual life — confessing one thing, but then focusing on something else during Lent — but it’s also very common to separate our spiritual life from our life in general. We keep religion tidily sequestered away from our everyday lives, treating our psyches like the two-chambered chemical bomb in “Die Hard with a Vengeance”: Gotta keep the two sides from mixing, or else KABOOM. A catastrophic explosion.
And we’re not wrong. Sometimes, when we let our interior walls start to break down and we realize that the words we hear on Sunday actually apply to us outside the church building, it does feel explosive, and not in the fun way.
My social media groups are full of little explosions like this: Women suddenly discovering that things they’ve been doing in their marriage for years are not actually licit, and now they have to break it to their husbands, or college students reading about the Last Supper in the Gospel and realizing there’s no way Jesus meant all that as a metaphor, and their Baptist parents are going to be very upset. Abigail Favale, in her excellent book “The Genesis of Gender,” describes admitting to herself, right before she’s due to begin teaching a class, that she no longer believed much of what was in her curriculum. Sometimes you just helplessly watch as a moment of honesty shatters the divide, two previously sequestered ideas mix, and everything blows up.
But it’s not always catastrophic. Sometimes this mixing, this integration, is more like something else I saw on Twitter recently…. Read the rest of my latest from Our Sunday Visitor.