Wednesday, February 20, 2013

God's Ideas and Turkey Sandwiches

Ash Wednesday was awesome. I stayed after evening Mass on Tuesday to help prepare the Newman center for the nine Masses said on Ash Wednesday. (Almost stupidly, in this culture Ash Wednesday is treated as a bigger deal than Easter even though it's not even a holy day of obligation. It's the sacramentals, I'm telling you. There's something about being marked that people really like.) I took unconsecrated altarbreads out of sleeves and packaged them in small quantities in ziploc bags, so that the priests would not overconsecrate at the Masses celebrated on-campus.

On that Wednesday after morning Mass, I went to class with marked forehead. Whenever I saw a classmate who also had ashes I'd gesture to my own forehead and say something silly, like "that's a good look for you," or "penance looks good on you." I even saw someone across the pump at the gas station with ashes, and we started talking about sacramentals! Crazy.

It also prompted some conversations with non-Catholic Christians, who also observe Lent and give up the radio in their cars or soda. It made me very glad that I know the Church's teachings about Lent: that adding prayer and almsgiving and fasting to remember that our only and ultimate desire is Christ, and that Lent has no value in itself, except as preparation for the joy of Easter.

And finally, it revealed some sad truths about a few of the Catholics in my classes. I spoke with one about Lent and found out he doesn't go to Mass. As soon as I found out, I took a step toward him as I started to encourage him to go. But he took a step back.

"Don't smite me," he said sort of jokingly.

And I took a step back again. "It's not about me," I said. And I gently and frankly urged him that this was nourishing to his soul. He was noncomittal about it, and shifted the topic back to Lent. I told him about prayer, fasting, and abstinence and what I hoped for: to focus constantly on Christ and love what He loves. "Because I want to be saint," I said finally.

"A saint?" he repeated. And he playfully tried out saying "Saint" in front of my name, as though I were aspiring to the presidency or the papacy or something.

"But we're all called to be saints," I said. "We're all made for it, and it's possible for all of us. You, too!"

And he paused, but then only said in an admiring tone, "you're very free with your ideas."

"GAH!" I wanted to say. "My ideas?? That's God's idea!"

But the conversation shifted to studying for STEP. (I try to never corner people into talking about spiritual things, so I'm pretty practiced at shifting gears to lower things. In this case, it was easy because STEP is a big stressor, and stress and holiness are on a similar plane of interior importance.)

Later, I went to the free lunch we had that day that came with a healthcare system presentation. I had forgotten to sign up for veggie, so I peeled the turkey off my sandwich. As I did, I realized that the classmate next to me was a Catholic (he'd been to a CMA meeting and the White Mass), and I thought I recognized him from Mass.

"Did I see you at Mass this morning?" I asked cordially.

"Uh, no," he answered. "I haven't been to Ash Wednesday yet."

There was a pregnant pause, punctuated only by the sound of potato chips and sandwich paper.

I wanted to say a lot of things, first among which was "Seriously?" followed by "Do you....know that this is a holy day, not an event? And the event is called Mass.... Ash Wednesday is not that big a deal compared to, you know...the second Person of the Trinity truly present in the Paschal Mystery on the altar...." But the presentation was starting, so I simply tried to be obvious with my turkey-peeling, and said "Too bad this [gesture to sandwich] was on Ash Wednesday."

"Yeah," he said, but he missed the hint.

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