I try to blog every day, but yesterday was a long and busy Ash Wednesday, so those of you who look for something every day had to make do with a couple of pieces from the archives–one for Valentine’s Day and one for Ash Wednesday.

So yesterday was the day all priests are hit with the dreaded black thumb. I began the distribution of ashes at the 8:15 school mass–which was crowded and was busy all day with various projects, meetings, adoration and confession and ending with the 6:00 Mass with more ashes for another packed church.

I asked an old priest once why so many Catholics come to Ash Wednesday which is not a Holy Day of Obligation. He said, “They’ll turn up for anything that’s free–even its only ashes.”

The old cynic…

Anyway, it was a joyful day and I am always one to welcome Lent as a joyful penitential season. I say joyful because it is the chance to make progress in a fresh and new way and to welcome the Lord and walk more closely to him.

It occurred to me this morning that in this day and age we ought to add an fourth Lenten duty: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving AND Evangelization.

I mean we need to spread the faith a bit more, and while Jesus told us not to show off with our fasting and prayer there’s no harm in bearing a joyful and maybe quirky witness during Lent.

One thing I’m going to do is wear my cassock every day. That’s a way to make a joyful witness and somebody asked me once why I wear the cassock and I snarked, “So I’m sure no-one will mistake me for an Episcopalian.”

To go off on a tangent for a moment, someone at a parish mission once asked why I thought it was best to receive Holy Communion on the tongue and not the hand. I said, “It is an added sign of reverence for the reality of Christ’s presence of his true body, blood soul and divinity and it is also a sure sign that you have consumed the host and you’re not going to shuffle off and put it in your pocket and thirdly, it’s a sign that you’re Catholic. Episcopalians and Lutherans might have a Eucharist that looks Catholic, but I don’t know anyone but Catholics who receive the host on the tongue.”

They liked that.

I’m finding more and more people in the pews and in ordinary parishes are leaning towards traditional piety and worship. That’s to be expected: as things become more wishy washy and squishy squashy theologically more people are going to demand a religion with some True Grit.

What I call Rooster Cogburn Catholicism.

But back to the topic of making a joyful Lent.

Lent can be joyful if you consider the penance, fasting, prayer and almsgiving and evangelization as a purification and a cleansing of the soul. It’s a good thing–like practicing the piano, getting some exercise and eating your greens.

Somebody said one of the signs of whether you have done a good thing or a bad thing is to ask yourself if you felt better after. Not just satiated or medicated better–but way down deep better.

So how to make a joyful Lent? Think of inventive ways to combine fasting, prayer, almsgiving and evangelization all together. Here’s what I mean:

  1. On Friday go to your favorite fast food place and pay $10 for the fish sandwich, tell the poor fast food employee to keep the change and give him a smile and prayer card.
  2. Don’t go to that swanky restaurant. Instead write a check for the amount and as you send it to FOCUS–the Catholic Campus Mission group–with a prayer for blessing.
  3. You’re eating out? Order an appetizer instead of a main course and write a check for the difference and donate it to St Paul’s Street Evangelization
  4. Buy the homeless person a big hot meal while you order a salad, say grace with him over the meal and tell him why you’re doing that and ask if he needs anything else.
  5. Every time you were going to buy a candy bar or some other sweet treat put the money in a jar and the send it with a prayer to your favorite evangelizing apostolate.

You get the idea.

Have a happy Lent!