The Pitfalls of Lent for an OCD Personality

By Debbie Shannon, Director of Ministries & Development at St. Peter’s

Road to LentLent used to be one of my very favorite times of year. I know…weird. But, honestly, I loved the structure and inherent “rules and regulations” that came with Lent when I was young. Having an OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) personality, I found the guidelines comforting. I need rules. I need structure, and order, and clear boundaries. Following them made me feel secure that I was doing okay.

Growing up in my family, Lenten sacrifices and traditions were a family affair. Ash Wednesday WAS a holy day of obligation (although technically it is not, I don’t think my dad cared…it was definitely an obligation for us). We ALL fasted and abstained from meat, regardless of our age. There were no sweets in our house during Lent, as it was assumed you were to give that up…and then, you were strongly encouraged to decide what else you were going to ‘give up’ for God as well. I know that sounds kind of stern and controlling, but, well, I got my OCD from my daddy.

To his credit, I also got my faith instruction from my father as well, and I did understand that I was supposed to do these things out of love for God. While I may not have had a mature understanding of how it helped, I did have a sense I was supposed to show Jesus that I knew He had sacrificed greatly for me, so I owed it to Him to make sacrifices to show Him I loved Him back. Well…not a bad understanding for a kid…but it was certainly full of pitfalls.

I figured the more I sacrificed, the more loving I was. If I didn’t yet ‘feel the love’, I could at least ‘show it’ and maybe it would come. I wanted to love God and I wanted Him to know it. Problem is I spent years equating my success, or lack of success, in my Lenten practices to my success, or lack of success, in loving God.  Being OCD, the effort and intent was not what counted, results did.

Oh, the pains of being a perfectionist! It took me decades to realize the significance of the Ash Wednesday readings and “…rend your hearts, not your garments.”

Lenten sacrifices were never meant to be about what we do for God. We really can’t do anything for God. He doesn’t need anything. They are ways to ‘empty ourselves’ so that we can be filled with what He wants to give us – His Love.

I wasted so much time mourning over my miserable failures when I secretly ate a piece of candy, or took a teeny, tiny little sip of soft drink, or peeked at just a minute of a favorite TV show I had given up from behind a corner where no one could see me. I just was never good enough, or strong enough, or devoted enough, or loving…well, there in lies the point! We are weak, and sinful, and lacking. EXACTLY!!! And so we need God desperately to be our strength, our healing and our remedy.  It is in our failures that we recognize more clearly our great need for God.  THAT is the genius of Lenten practices!

Today, I still secretly resolve to abstain from some things at Lent, however, I try to avoid the OCD concentration on perfect success. I rejoice that God still loves me when I fail, and thank Him for reminding me that I am NOT perfect, but that HE is!  I ask Him to fill my lack with his perfect love.

I have turned more to Lenten practices that allow Him to do for me, rather than trying to prove anything to Him. (God doesn’t need proof of our love…He knows everything!) I avail myself to more spiritual reading and scripture, so I can fill myself with His word and inspirations. I go to confession so He can fill me with His forgiveness and grace to resist sin in the future. I attend Mass more frequently – so He can fill me with Himself!  I find this a much more satisfying Lent – I’d rather empty my soul for Him to fill, than my stomach.  Those practices are still good for ‘practice’.  I exercise my “No” muscle in little things, so that if a big temptation (for sin) comes along, I’ve practiced, and can say no to myself more easily.

I just wish I could be less “OCD” about the dirty socks my teens leave on the living room floor. Guess I might give up nagging about socks for Lent, too.

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They’re Back…Allelujah!

By: Debbie Shannon, Center Coordinator

Allelujah! Allelujah! Doesn’t it feel good to say that again? Do you miss the allelujahs during Lent?

I have to admit that, despite my Catholic School upbringing, I didn’t even notice for years that we ‘put them away’ during the season of Lent. It was over 20 years ago that I discovered that tradition. Our pastor, in an attempt to teach the young children of the parish about liturgical seasons, created a clever and charming illustration of the penitential season of Lent. On Ash Wednesday, the priest headed out onto the grounds of the church followed like the pied piper by a multitude of curious youngsters. They had spent much energy with paper and markers creating beautiful, hand-written and decorated “Allelujahs” in their Sunday School classes. Their teachers now joined them as they watched the pastor dig a hole in the dirt with a shovel. He then passed around a large plastic jar into which the children were instructed to place their “Allelujahs”. Once the papers were in place, he screwed on a lid and set the jar into the hole in the ground.  It was fascinating to watch the faces of the kids as he threw dirt back over the hole and buried their beautiful work. We then walked silently back to the church to begin the Ash Wednesday service. It was going to be a quiet and somber season.

I am now very aware of the absence of the use of allelujah in our Lenten liturgies. That priest not only taught our young children a vivid lesson in the rich symbolism of our liturgical calendar, but, I suspect, quite a few of us adults as well.

Forty days later, on Easter Sunday, the pastor led his flock back out into the field on the church grounds with shovel in hand. He dug down into that dirt and brought those allelujahs back out. Then with the help of an adult, each child tied an allelujah onto the string of a helium balloon and let it go…up…up…up! To heaven? Whatever…the point was made, and I don’t think a child there enjoyed it more than this adult. I have never forgotten that illustration and it comes back to me EVERY Lent and Easter.

I absolutely love the richness of our Catholic Church traditions! They move me. I know balloons and paper allelujahs ended up in someone’s backyard later that day…and I smile at the thought of what that heavenly delivery must have brought to the people who discovered them…but every Easter I smile so big as I shout out ALLELUJAH, He is risen! He is risen indeed!

And the child in me rejoices. Again.

We Could Never Do Enough for God ~ A Holy Week Meditation

By Father Anthony Odiong, Director

Suppose you were in love with the dogs of Waco, and you desired to teach them how to behave properly – not to snap at mailmen and children! So, you decided to become a dog! All went well except you could only bark and not speak, though you could think. To your surprise, the other dogs did not pay much attention to you. One day, they got mad at you, and tore you to pieces. There was nothing you could do. You had taken the risk to love them anyway.

The life of the God/Man Jesus Christ was something like this. During Holy Week we penetrate deeply the mystery of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Which do you think was the greatest gift: that Jesus became one of us, or that he suffered and died for us? The God/Man Jesus Christ is God’s Word to us – one eternal word – Love.

Holy Week is the heart of the liturgical year. It celebrates the culmination of the ministry and life of Jesus Christ on earth. The last week of Jesus’ life is perhaps a summary of all of human existence. Jesus was loved by many. This is symbolized by the several anointings that He received from Mary Magdalene. Once in honor of Lazarus, and again in the house of Simon the leper.  In this time the Lord experienced also the betrayal of Judas, one of His disciples. He was rejected by His own people, tried by three Judges, crucified, died and rose from the dead.

The story of Jesus is your story and mine. If you look at that mangled body hanging on the cross, you will find yourself, or your story, written all over Him.  Holy Week and Easter reminds us that in the end, it is Love that will triumph. Only Love is credible.

The Easter Triduum is one celebration in three moments.  Holy Thursday reenacts Jesus’ three fold gift to the world: The Eucharist, the priesthood and the shining example of service in the washing of His disciples’ feet.  Good Friday celebrates the death of God. In the words of the philosopher Nietzsche, “God is dead and we have killed Him.” However, the death of God on Good Friday reaps the salvation of the world. Good Friday is really good. Holy Saturday celebrates the absence of God in the world, when His presence is reduced to a whisper or a ‘rumor of angels’. Sometimes, life feels like Holy Saturday.  In the Easter Vigil, we wait in patient expectation for Christ our Light to triumph over the hell of the human condition with a life that cannot be destroyed forever.

God’s love for us in Christ is in excess of anything we could ever ask for or imagine.  As we enter into this solemn hour, let us become aware that there is nothing we could ever do for God to compare with what He has done for us in Christ.  We could never do enough for God or for one another.

A happy Holy Week and Easter to you all!

Our Restless Souls

By: Debbie Shannon

St. Augustine said, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”

I believe we long for intimacy our entire life because we are seeking that from which we came.  Like a screaming newborn babe seeks out his mother’s breast after being forced into this world, only calming and finding comfort after reattaching to her, we are rooting and seeking our entire life to reconnect with God.  Separated by original sin, our soul knows it is ultimately destined for union with God.

God wired us for relationship and community to teach us about intimacy and draw us back into union with Him.  Community and intimate relationships are a means to that end.  We can find Jesus in each other. They are not the end in themselves, however.  No human relationship can ever fully satisfy us.  We must continue to seek what we were made for…God.

When you are in love with another person, you enjoy it when they hold you with their arms around you.  It can be the same way with God, only better. Your desire and longing to be held by another person is evidence of your need to be held by God.

Love the caress of God. Cling to His presence and hate clinging to anything else.   You can trust God to lavish enough of His presence to quench your thirsty need for love.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t be possible for you to make God become your one and only pursuit.  Your need would only drive you to “keep looking” toward people – who only have the same need for God as you.

God made you with desire.  Fill yourself with Him.

Behold, Now is a Very Acceptable Time

By Celina Basaldu, Senior, Social Work

The season of Lent has officially arrived! The biggest questions of “what do I give up?” or “what can I take on?” are answered (hopefully) and now we, as celebrators of Lent, can fully immerse ourselves in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in order to prepare our hearts and minds for the ultimate sacrifice of Our Lord and His glorious Resurrection.

Throughout my years in college, I’ve learned that there is so much more to Lent than just giving up my favorite soft drink or candy. The Church gives us this beautiful opportunity to spend the next 40 days in deep prayer and reflection. Lent calls us to build a closer and deeper relationship with Christ. Some may argue that you just give something up for 40 days and then forget all about it once Easter’s over; everyone will settle back into their old ways and forget about the growth might have occurred. That’s true, it could happen, but it doesn’t have to be that way!

Regarding prayer: I’ve made the decision to say Morning and Night Prayer every day (Sidenote: I highly encourage praying the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s beautiful. And it’s the official daily prayer of the Church!). Through these prayers I begin and end my day in prayer. Oh, what a wonderful way to start and end my day! These last few days, I’ve opened my day, and heart, with His words and closed my day with His peace.

Regarding fasting: Fasting disciplines us. You may surprise yourself with the amount of discipline that remains with you once Lent ends, if you allow it. These last few years of college, I decided to ‘give up my time.’ My sophomore year, I decided to attend Daily Mass every Tuesday and Thursday. My junior year, I added Friday and Communion Service on Monday. And now, as a senior, Daily Mass has become a part of my routine. I allowed the Spirit of Lent to move in me and carry on beyond the holy days of Easter.  This year, I still attend Daily Mass, but I’ve taken it a step further, I gave up…my snooze button! Ugh. These last two mornings have been awful, but a good friend reminded me this morning that it’s not something that happens right away. It takes time and it’s something I have to work on. The fact that discipline is a process just illustrates the growth that is occurring. I have now finally learned that I’m not really giving up my time. I’m giving it back to God.

Regarding almsgiving, or works of charity: I’m gonna be honest, you’d think as a social work major my whole life would be about community service, well…not exactly. Like anyone, I can get so caught up in my busy schedule that I forget to stop and think of those who are in need. This Lent, I’ve decided to dedicate my time to serving the most vulnerable, the unborn. Fridays I plan to be sitting outside of Planned Parenthood praying a rosary for lives lost due to abortion. This act of service is not only a physical representation of charity, but it’s a uniting of prayer with the Church Militant in Heaven to end abortion and support the beauty of life.

Now, why I did I tell you all of this? (Besides plugging Liturgy of the Hours, our Daily Mass schedule, or “40 Days for Life”) Am I asking you attend daily Mass every day, stand in front of an abortion clinic, or give up your snooze button? No. But I’m asking you this: what can you do NOW?! God is calling each and every single one of us today, right now, to rid ourselves of every burden and give it up to Him as we remember His Passion. Y’all, the time is now! Live and make sacrifices for Him now. Now, with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and the rewards will be far greater than you can ever imagine and you’ll find them in the arms of God.

‎”For he says: ‘In an acceptable time-I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2]



Ashes…yucch!

By Debbie Shannon, Center Coordinator – St. Peter’s

I have never really enjoyed wearing ashes on Ash Wednesday, and so, it came as quite a surprise when a group of students began to beg Fr. Anthony to add an early morning Mass to the schedule for today.  Students DO NOT like early morning anything!  Why wouldn’t they prefer the 6pm Mass?  According to them, they like to get their ashes early so they can wear them all day.

I just didn’t get it.  Anyone who knows me, and plenty of the students will chuckle at this, knows that a dirty Debbie is almost an oxymoron.  Mrs. Debbie does not do dirty anything. The primary task I was given when I first arrived on the job at St. Peter’s was to ‘clean it up!’

Nonetheless, every year, I choose to begin my Lenten journey by receiving ashes at Mass on Ash Wednesday.  I know it is not a holy day of obligation and I could avoid the messy issue by not participating, but I get in line with everyone else and receive the mark. While some of our students may love touting their Catholic look on our primarily protestant Baylor campus as an opportunity to open dialogue, (Did you know you have something black all over your forehead?), I self-consciously endure the looks and comments as the opening to a season of sacrifice, self-denial and penance.

Over the years, as my faith has matured, I have learned to recognize it as a very good opportunity for some serious reflection.  Here are a few gems that Ash Wednesday has made me ponder in years past.  I am sure God will provide a wonderful new image for me this year as well.

  • Can I wear ashes as a fraternal connection with my impoverished brothers around the world who have no option but to live in filth today.
  • What if my sins “showed”?  What if each one created a visible stain on my skin?
  • Why am I so self-conscious about looking funny, different or even “Catholic”?
  • I have always envisioned that John the Baptist must have been a mess! And yet, people flocked to hear his message. Can I trust that God’s light shining through me will eclipse my own weak and shabby image?

St. Peter’s Catholic Student Center will indeed have an early morning Mass with distribution of ashes at 7am on Ash Wednesday this year.  We will also have one at 6pm.  (There will NOT be the usual 12:15pm Mass and lunch fellowship.)