{These Forty Days} Joy in the Desert

These Forty Days

“With Christ, joy is constantly born anew” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

Why choose “Joy” as a Lenten theme?  Isn’t it supposed to be a time of penitence?  A time of soul-growth?

Yes, it is.  And life has become filled with joy-stealing rushing, pursuit.  This hurried focus on the material has deafened us to the call of Joy and robbed us of His grace banquet.  We have become slaves to mammon.  But we want to be servants of the Lord of Joy.  The pursuit of Joy is real, serious work.  It will require a real sacrifice.  A radical change.

Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”.  How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! – EG

This Lent, we are going to make the journey with the help of Scripture, the writings of our popes, and the saints.  It is our prayer that, by the end of this Lenten journey, we will all awake to a new life in Joy on Easter.

All are welcome, whether practicing Catholic, curious Christian, or non-Christian; whether you have left the Church and are longing for home, or have never known a Catholic person.

No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”. The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. – EG

I am going to suggest some concrete things that you can do to help you detach from those things that are stealing your joy, tune your ears to hear better His call, and open your mouth to proclaim His praise. They will be some simple, but difficult things.  It will require you to do what brings you outside your comfort zone.  But your joy will begin to show as the weight is lifted from you.  And you will want to share what you are doing as your fetters fall away and your joy expands.  And they, too, can escape what binds them and experience real Gospel joy.

“Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others”. – Aparecida Document from the 5th general conference of the Latin American and Caribbean bishops
I don’t want to over burden you with daily tasks, so I will post once each week of Lent with some suggestions for things that you can practice during that week.  This is about making life simpler, not about binding you up in more commitments.  So take what you need and leave the rest.  The last thing I want this devotion to do is rob you of more joy.
Sundays during Lent are “little Easters” for Catholics. Brian will prepare a reflection on the readings or daily prayers from the breviary.  Something to refresh and strengthen you for the coming week.
This week: Clean the slate

Assess, Confess, Simplify

ASSESS: This week, take stock of your finances.  So much of what robs our joy is bound up in money.  We spend a great deal of our time servicing debts – serving mammon.  Working enough hours to make the bills – many of which are debts – can become our sole motivation.  It takes our time from family, it takes our time from service, it takes our time from God.  Because we know this in our hearts, the strain can overwhelm us.  This is a kind of bondage.

What expenses do you absolutely need to keep, what are somewhat important, which are totally unnecessary?

Debt is necessary, many will argue.  Perhaps.  But is ALL debt necessary?  And is the standard length of time for borrowing money necessary?  The answer, of course, is: NO

1.  Shut off those services that you don’t absolutely need to have. Trade the hours you work to pay for them for time with your family, God’s gift to you.

2. Cut down those habitual treats that you allow yourself or your family.  You can probably afford to allow those half or one quarter of the time.  And they will be all the more precious because of their rarity. Make homemade substitutions for the meantime.  Rent a movie instead of going to the movie theatre, make pizza instead of ordering it, plan a hike instead of making a trip to the amusement park.

 

“My child, treat yourself well, according to your means... Do not deprive yourself of the day’s enjoyment” (Sir. 14:11, 14)

It’s about assessing what you can truly afford – in time and in money.

CONFESS: Apart from going to actual confession with your priest, we need to come clean with and ask forgiveness of the people in our lives – our debtors, our employers, our associations, our families.  This week, we’re trying to help relieve the burden of financial bondage so that we will be free to experience God’s call to greater joy.  If we have taken on too much with outside commitments at work or volunteering, this is an acceptable time to say so.  “I have over committed myself and it is having a negative impact on my family/health/spiritual well-being, and I need to reduce (or eliminate) this activity”.  Be firm, be specific.  And if you spend too much time on your own, pursuing your own interests, it is time to admit that to yourself, and to your family. and ask them to help hold you accountable.

Freeing ourselves from the bondage of debt is glorious in theory and terrifying in practice.  But you can do it.  If there are debts that you are servicing, and have serviced, for a long time – and you seem to be getting nowhere, you can ask for forgiveness.  Getting out of debt – trading your service of mammon to service of God – opens you to immense joy.

“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” – Mt. 6:24 (NAB)

 

1. Write a debt forgiveness request letter.  Explain why you can not continue to pay on the debt (changes in family circumstances, employment, and health are common reasons).  Offer, if it is feasible, a settlement amount to clear the debt immediately, or an elimination of interest payments.  If it is not feasible, say so.  Ask for their forgiveness, and thank them for their consideration.  Not all creditors can forgive, but many can, and will.  But you must ask.  And you don’t need a consumer credit counselor to do it.

2. Make a plan for the savings.  Put the funds toward what you really need.  If there are remaining debts that can’t be forgiven, put the money there to make larger payments and get out of debt bondage more quickly.  Start with the smallest debt owed (which likely also has the highest interest), and work up.  Plan to just keep chipping away.  Do not exclude your mortgage.  I disagree that there is any such thing as “good debt”.  All financial debt puts us as the service of that debt, which prevents us from being at the service of God. Make double payments, treble payments, put your tax refund there, you financial windfalls… Everything.  Get rid of that debt.  Savings will come later.  It is hard.  It goes against everything that financial experts (so called) will tell you.  This is practical and common sense.  You got yourself into this debt, you have got to get out.  Before you can enjoy the fruits of your own labour.

SIMPLIFY: During the season of Lent, we clear everything out of the sanctuary.  The flowers and extra ornamentation are removed.  Everything is swept clean.  Take a look around your home, your office, your life.  What things can we clear out?  What things are we hanging onto that we no longer need?  Do we need more than one television?  Do we need to hang onto all of those outgrown clothes?  Do we need all of that fabric or yarn or tools or kits?  Can we eliminate some commitments?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” – Mt. 6:19-21 NAB

1. Go through the house and begin collecting up what you aren’t using – and aren’t likely to use.  Organize it.  Pack it into the car and drop it off at a thrift store or shelter.  Shelters need clothing badly – especially seasonal outerwear.  If you will truly need some of your things later (for younger children, for instance), make sure they are organized and marked well, and put them away.  If you have no room for it, then you must assess what you really need.  This is really difficult.  But it will only hurt for a moment.

2. Go through your schedule and take a look at all of the commitments you have as a family.  Those things that are not at the service of God, or which are absolutely necessary (regularly schedule – not extra work, doctor’s appointments) should be reduced or eliminated.  Cut your volunteer hours to half or one quarter.

Your family is your greatest treasure outside of God.  Those two must take priority. Escape from the trap that so many of us have fallen into: justifying a commitment because it is “for our family”.  Families don’t need middlemen, or mediators.  They need the people that God has put together.  Very simple.  Extra work hours, sports, dance, music lessons, etc. can all be justified that way.  Take a hard, honest look at those activities. Are they causing stress, hassle, financial strain?  Are they building up your family or the Kingdom of God, or are they building up ‘something else’?

Simplicity is not ease.  It is a lack of complication.  Taking on too much buries us and rob us of joy.

This is hard work.  It is serious pride-depriving, temptation-fighting desert walking.  There is much dying to self in these suggestions.  All so that we can rise again on Easter,  new creations,  filled with Joy!