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Posts tagged ‘Lent’

I Hate Snakes

I hate snakes.

I cannot walk through a field of high grass without being en guarde.

We are building a chicken coop along one side of our house. I have seen two itty, bitty snakes there in the last few years. Snakes like eggs. I’m envisioning the snake-swarm. One snake telling another, “Hey, there’s food over there. Let’s go.”

My husband says we will move if he ever sees a cockroach in the house. I tell him we will move if there is ever a snake in the house.

I hate snakes.

The people of God were about to bypass Edom. About to make their way to Mount Nebo. I’ve been there.


I can imagine the snakes.

I can imagine the panic when one of them bites.

I can imagine the despair.

Make a saraph and mount it on a pole, and whoever looks at it after being bitten will live.


Mount Nebo

We pray it every time we pray the Stations of the Cross. For by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.

We face the serpent daily. We know his bite. We battle the fear of what will happen to us now. But in that moment, we are to genuflect. We raise our eyes to the Cross.

And we are healed.

We rejoice, because Easter is so close. Our redemption awaits. He has overcome death and sin and the grave.

Snakes be damned.

And we rise with Him to enter a Promised Land.

Day Nine Novena from Israel

March 2014 Catholic by Grace Column

I remember the day I discovered the joy of playing with a prism and the power generated by a magnifying glass. I was sitting on the windowsill of our fifth grade classroom and chatting with friends. We were looking at Mrs. Grace’s plants and goofing around with the magnifying glasses and prisms. I was fascinated by the rainbows appearing on our notebook paper when we held a prism just so between our fingers and thumb. What an amazing thing, this ray of sunlight! I studied the spectrum, trying to figure out just where one color ended and another began.

A friend was playing with the magnifying glass. She was fascinated by the pinpoint of bright light that she could generate by steadily holding the magnifying glass in one position and letting the sunlight pass through the glass. As we watched and laughed at the wonders of science, her paper began to smoke, and the little spot of bright light turned brown. The paper was on fire. There was one collective intake of breath, and then everyone was silent. We had heard about that sort of thing happening, and now we had witnessed it for ourselves.

If you’ve ever played with rays of sunlight, you understand how our lives can be a prism in the hand of God. Our works become a rainbow of colors for all to see. Beautiful. Drawing the eyes of others toward God, causing their souls to marvel and wonder.

Our souls can be a magnifying glass in the hand of God. We lift our hearts up, and Jesus Christ is magnified. Everyone in proximity holds his breath in wonder, in awe. Miracles happen. Lives are set ablaze.

The divine light reveals our unique gifts, like the colors in the rainbow. The divine light reveals God himself. Power. Majesty. The consuming fire of God.

That day, on a windowsill in a fifth-grade classroom, a group of children were stunned into silence for just a moment. We had been fascinated by the rainbows. But when we realized the power of the sun, and what we could do with a little magnifying glass, we made no sound at all. This was a power too great – something too important – to misuse.

We looked at each other with big eyes and open mouths. And we quietly put the magnifying glasses away in a box. We had uncovered a secret about the sun that demanded maturity, awe, respect. When we opened our science books, we now understood as children who had experienced it personally. Hands-on education. The kind of learning that sticks around long after the test and the last day of class. The kind of learning that even the most apathetic student will abide. Yes, he will keep coming back to discover more.

And so it is in matters of faith. Let the little ones  – the curious and the apathetic ones – gather around. Let them see the Son as he passes through your life, yielding the colors of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self-control. Watch, as he displays his power in the middle of human suffering. Or sorrow. Or death. Miracles happen right here. And everyone is stunned. They cannot help but ponder it all. And they will not forget.

It’s Mrs. Grace’s classroom all over again.

St. Catherine of Siena once said we will set the world ablaze if we become what we were meant to become. And what is that? A magnifying glass in the hand of God. Come, let us magnify the Lord, together.



Invisalign Braces and More Lent

I am one hour in to my first set of invisalign braces.

I now have many more things to offer up this Lent. No coffee – except with meals when the braces come off. No soda either. Nothing with color – unless I want a red, or brown, or orange smile.

Water. I can drink water. And I can eat and drink whatever I want – but only at meal time when the braces come off.

As they said in the orthodontist office: This is a good time to start a diet. So there is a bright side.

They say the good thing about invisalign is that you can take them out. They say the bad thing about invisalign is that you can take them out.

Still, I think invisalign is a good choice for me. Perhaps you should ask me later – after my teeth start hurting – because they say they will hurt. They say I will want to take them out. But they said I should not give in to that desire.

It’s kind of like the freedom God gives us. The good thing about this faith is that God has given us the choice to love him or to walk away. The good thing about God’s gift of grace is it depends on our free will to receive it and to walk in it. The bad thing about God’s gift of grace is that it depends on our free will to abandon it and to let it fade away completely.

There will be times we will feel like throwing off the mantle of holiness. But we should not give in to that desire.

Like the invisalign braces, my faith may not be obvious at first glance. This pursuit of holiness is usually a quiet, hidden process.

But those who are closest to us know it’s happening. They are aware of the changes, and eventually others will notice as well.

So we submit to the pain required in spiritual change. We do not throw off the mantle when it becomes a little difficult.

And when we need some assistance, we know where to go. The Eucharist. The waters of Baptism. The confessional.

We turn to Christ.



Lent and the Little Black Skirt

In the summer of 2009, my husband and I went to a family reunion. John’s aunt told a little story about her mother-in-law. I never met Grandma Bossert. She passed away long before I married into the family. But John’s Aunt Lucia said Grandma had a little straight skirt. She’d owned it for as long as Aunt Lucia could remember. Grandma used the skirt as a kind of measuring tape to monitor weight gain. When she couldn’t get the side zipper to zip, she would cut back on what she ate until it fit her again.

I’ve seen pictures of Grandma Bossert. She looked like a Hollywood star even when she was well into her sixties, thanks to that little skirt and constant vigilance.

Our Church calendar is like Grandma’s skirt.

On fat Tuesday, we try on our spiritual skirts, and we realize that we have gotten a little out of shape. Our baptismal vows aren’t fitting like they should. And for 40 days, we submit to the process of self-denial and service to others. We ask for the grace to reorder our disordered lives, so that on Easter morning, we are ready to meet the Risen Lord.

We have ways of measuring our progress. We know what to do when things are out of control. At the end of Lent, we know that we could let things fall apart again, or we can ask God for the grace to keep our lives in right order.

We don’t have to wait for Lent to monitor our progress in holiness. We can ask for the grace to overcome our weaknesses today –  we can read the lives of the saints and get inspired. We can submit to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and lose the baggage we carry. We can end each day with an examination of conscience and begin each day with a simple dedication of our day to God.

There are so many ways to keep walking in holiness. Pick one. Eventually your spiritual skirt will fit like a glove.

Hubcaps on Branches and Lent

Once in a while, I see a shoe in the road. It’s odd — a shoe in a road, in a place it obviously doesn’t belong, separated from its mate.

It’s almost as odd as seeing a pair of shoes tied together and flung across an overhead wire. You can’t help wondering how it got there. Plain old weird. (Actually, I just learned that the shoes are a message indicating something rather sinister – like a place where one can buy illicit drugs. So this, too, is a message left for passersby, a message meant for evil.)

Every once in a while, as I am driving home, I notice a hubcap that’s hanging on a branch. As a driver who has lost a hubcap or two through the years, I know why this oddball thing is hanging on a tree branch. Someone found it and knew the owner might be looking for it. The “finder” hung the hubcap on a prominent branch in hopes that the owner would pass that way again and see it. The good-deed-doer will never get a thank you for his act of kindness. It is enough to know that the owner might be thankful for the anonymous help.

My friend, during Lent, you are hanging hubcaps on trees for passersby. You won’t be thanked. Nobody will ever come up to you and say, “Hey, when I saw the ashes on your forehead, I felt a tug to come back Home.”

Or, “When I took an order and the entire family chose seafood, I realized that they were Catholic, and I remembered that it was Friday. That’s when I went to Confession. It was the first time in fifteen years.”

Or, “I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on with her, but she just stopped joining in the office gossip. At first I thought she was sick, but she was in too good of a mood to be sick. Then I wondered. Could it be what she’s given up for Lent?”

You are hanging hubcaps on trees. They are out there, the ones who have lost something. And when they notice the oddball hubcap hanging from a tree limb, they might just say, “Hey, that’s mine. I need that back.”

No acclaim.

No recognition.

No thanks.

Go ahead and hang the hubcaps, friends. And smile while you’re doing it. You are about to make another person’s day, or week, or eternity.

March 2014 Catholic By Grace Column


Crane Creek was the rambling stream that ran behind our Iowa home when I was a child. It was the swelling water that rushed mightily in the spring and flooded the basements, except ours – thanks to the sump pump the board of trustees included in the building plan of the new parsonage.

The creek was the frozen play land where I first learned to keep my ankles firm when they wanted to twist and buckle in my new white ice skates. It was the same creek where some guy veered off the road one night and drove down the embankment and right out on the ice but didn’t break through. He just opened the door of his car and crawled on all fours across the ice to safety. Nobody told us how they got his car off the ice and back to the road.

The creek ran beside the park where I slid down a splintery slide and tore an eight-inch hole in my favorite jeans – back when I was still young enough to climb the slide but old enough to care about favorite jeans.

It’s where my sister, brother and I cut grass and made pocket change for pool admission at the local KOA.

Crane Creek. It’s where my brother caught blue gill too small to eat, and I became an Iowa girl always and forever.

It’s where I took walks when I needed space, where I realized how much I didn’t want to move to my father’s new pastorate. I wanted to stay there, by the creek, near friends, and marry and have babies who grew up to skate and slide and fish.

Place matters.

It forms us. It stays with us. Like the Church, where our fingers dip, where we are washed and freed from every stain. Where we return every Lent and remember. Reclaim. Renew.

It’s there always. A water that captures us and captivates us and never lets go.

Water strong enough to hold us, even when we crash into it like that driver on a cold January night crashed into the frozen creek behind our house. Yes, even then it saves us. Protects us. Bears us up. Read more