For Caturday during Lent an Excerpt from the Easter Book by Sula the Parish Cat at Old Mission
(drawing by Uliana Yanovich)
What is Lent?
One of the duties during Lent is to go to confession (reconciliation). Lent is one of two times in the Catholic Church when the Sacrament of Reconciliation is required. Can you guess the other? Yep, it is Christmas. I like to sit with people in the church as they take turns going to one of the priests—our Mission often brings in several priests on one evening during Lent to make it easy for people to go to confession. I notice that when they come back—maybe the priest has given them a penance of a prayer or something like that—they sometimes pray beside me. They always seem happy! That is why I think the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a good thing! Sometimes people seem nervous at first, but if anyone is willing to take advice from a cat, I say “go for it; don’t pass up any opportunity for reconciliation.” The Mission, like every Catholic church makes the opportunity for confession available at any time. Usually a few hours each week are set aside for that. Every week I see the wonderful effect it has on the few people who show up.
Lent lasts 40 days. Forty has a special meaning in the Bible. The meaning is “a long time.” Noah was stuck in his ark for 40 days. The Israelites wandered around what is today the eastern part of the desert in Saudi Araba and its extension into Jordan, Wadi Rum (Rum Valley) until Moses climbed Mount Nebo to the west of Wadi Rum in present-day Madaba. Jesus was tempted for 40 days in the wilderness. In other words, they spent a long time, though probably not precisely 40 days or 40 years, involved in these experiences.
Lent, too, can seem like a long time. It has to be a long time because it is a time of personal transformation, and transformation takes time. I understand that even though I am a cat. Sometimes, the Mission Gift Shop staff tell me that I have to transform into a thinner version of myself for my own good. I find that a difficult thing to do—it seems to take very, very, very long.
The Mass during Lent differs from the Mass during Ordinary Time. The Alleluia is not sung before the reading of the Gospel, but rather a praise to Jesus that doesn’t use the word alleluia: “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, king of endless glory.” Further, in some churches, the dismissal song is not sung but rather a drum is beaten with a slow measure.
During the 40 days of Lent, we reflect upon our relationship with God and upon our relationship with each other. We try to be and become the best servants my Boss has. Of course, we never reach total perfection at that; even the saints did not reach full perfection. To help us transform into a better version of ourselves, we fast, we give alms, and we pray.
(photo by Stacey Gentry)
Fasting involves refraining from eating a lot of food even if we are very hungry. In the Catholic Church, the rule is to eat only one regular meal a day and two much smaller ones. (People who are over 59 ½ or sick are exempt from this Lenten practice.) I understand how hard this is; I am, after all, a bit of a portly cat so giving up any food at all is never my first choice. I know it is good for me, just as it is good for people, who get a sense of what it is like to be hungry, poor, or homeless.
Abstinence is observed on Fridays during Lent, as well as on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (of course, Good Friday is a Friday). On Fridays, as a reminder that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, Catholics do not eat meat; they abstain from that pleasure. I suppose though, that those who are vegetarians don’t mind at all. Instead of meat, many Catholics eat fish. For that reason, many non-Catholics associate Catholics with fish. Someone told me, in fact, that McDonald’s added a fish sandwich to its menu just for us Catholics. In the old days (I was not alive then—I just have heard people say this), Catholics used to abstain on all Fridays all year round, but that has changed.
Many, if not most, parishes hold soup dinners on Fridays. Everybody who comes to fellowship together brings a meatless soup or bread. I like the soup dinners, in part because people are happy to see each other, sitting around tables, eating soup and corn bread. My friend, Marie, always brought corn bread. Then, they would come into the church for Stations of the Cross. Even if I did not make it to the soup dinner which was far away in the kitchen near the parish office, I would always see the diners when they came to the church for Stations of the Cross. (I have to tattle-tale on one of my rooster friends, who also live at our Mission. One time he strutted into the soup dinner. I don’t know what he thought he might find tasty. Maybe it was the corn bread. He did not get to find out, though. He got gently ushered back out to feast on Mission-grounds bugs.)
It is okay to feast on Sunday, though. People don’t talk about that much, but it is a good thing, right? Sundays should be joyful days because we are coming together into the presence of my Boss and, especially, because Sunday is the day that Jesus was resurrected.
Also, there is another kind of fasting (or abstinence) that takes place during Lent. People fast (abstain) from something, typically something they like. Some people give up chocolate—a popular choice; some people give up gossiping—another popular choice and probably harder than giving up chocolate. Some people do something quite different. They give up an attitude, or in lieu of one attitude, they adopt a better one, such as giving up hurrying to their next task and stopping to try to be kind. Still others give up some of their time or money to help others or a good cause. The reason people give up things during Lent is to reflect the sacrifice that Jesus made. Some people make the sacrifice very quietly and do not share, keeping it a personal matter. Other people tell their friends; they find it easier to keep their commitment if others know and can help them remember their commitment at appropriate times.
I have never quite figured out what I, a cat, could give up. Instead of giving up something, then, I give up my personal time and spend even more time during Lent with God’s people. Pictures of me with some of them are on the back cover of this book.
(photo by Stacey Gentry)
Giving alms is an important part of Lent. In the Bible, we are told to give alms. It seems to me that is only fair. If we have money and someone else does not, we should share it. That is what giving alms is all about, and it helps many people and many causes in important ways. If we can only give pennies, then that is what we give. It is just as important as a rich person who gives lots of dollars. Remember the story Jesus told about the lady who gave her last two coins? It is hard to be such great people as this poor lady, isn’t it?
Catholics are known not only for their fish sandwiches but also for their rice bowls. Rice bowls are those little paper containers that are handed out at church on Ash Wednesday. They are a good way to give alms. Every day you an put a few coins in there, and it adds up. When everyone brings their rice bowls to the church at the end of Lent, it adds up to a lot! We call these paper containers rice bowls because many of them have been sent to foreign countries as money to buy rice (or other food) for poor people who are hungry and without the means to buy their own food or take care of their own needs. Over the years, a great many people have told stories about being helped by the rice bowls.
People can give alms in many ways. Rice bowls is perhaps the most popular way, but people also give money directly to the church or to special foundations and causes. The annual bishop’s appeal in our area, at least, takes place during Lent. How people give alms is completely up to the individual. There is no end of ways to give alms!
(photo by Stacey Gentry)
Prayer is the third requirement for Lent. If we are to transform, God will be the one to transforms us, and how can that happen if we are not in communication with Him? There are many kinds of prayer—specific prayers of the Catholic Church (generally spoken aloud), contemplative prayer (sometimes called silent or mental prayer), rosary prayers, intentions (a special form of prayers that usually are requests for God’s mercy presented in a group), and prayers during the liturgy, among other kinds of prayer. Let’s not forget the most important prayer of all: The Lord’s Prayer, the one that Jesus gave us. Yet another important one during Lent is the Act of Contrition, which people say when they go to confession.
Some of my friends and I are going to write a prayer book as my next book; we will explain all the different kinds of prayers in the Catholic Church—and there are a lot of them. The bottom line, though, is that praying is just talking to God. Sometimes, a format and formulaic prayer helps or even is needed. Other times, just talking like you would to a friend is more appropriate. Still other times, listening is more than enough and perhaps the most important. I listen every morning when I start the day by sitting in front of the statue of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals (like me) whose followers founded Old Mission San Juan Bautista (and 20 others in California).
I really like the prayer that is ascribed to St. Francis: “Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace.” It was written after he died, so he could not have written it. A lot of people do call it “the prayer of St. Francis” because St. Francis tried to make peace between the Muslims and the Christians in the 13th century. I try to do what the prayer asks for: bring peace to everyone I meet. That is why it is my favorite prayer. What prayer or kind of prayer is your favorite?
For the rest of this chapter, take a look at Sula's book, Easter at the Mission.
For more posts about Sula and her books -- and more excerpts from her books, click HERE.