Friday, March 11, 2011

Why I Need Mortification

I fast again tomorrow. I've already planned the "menu," if you can call it that. A boiled egg and dry toast for breakfast, with a glass of milk. One piece of bread and some peanut butter, half a banana for lunch. And at supper, rice and beans, one cup each, and another glass of milk.

A missionary priest from Haiti once came to my old parish to raise money for Food for the Poor, a great charity that uses a full 95 cents of every donated dollar to put something where it's needed. He told us about his journey, how he'd been a pastor in an affluent Northeastern parish for years, with a fancy rectory and very generous parishioners making sure he had everything he wanted. Then the superior of his order called one Monday and said, John, you're going to Haiti. He answered, Well, I don't think that's such a good idea. My parish here needs me. To which the Superior, after a pause, answered, You leave on Wednesday, and that was that. Father John arrived in Haiti and was met by another priest who took him to his new quarters, a tent-shaped piece of bent tin with some grubby cardboard spread out as a floor. He lived in that for 5 years, and now was at my parish as part of a cross-country effort to raise money for Food for the Poor, for help in Haiti.

He told us about the poverty, the dictators, the topsoil washed out to sea by the last hurricane. He said at the mission camp they keep a lot of kids full by feeding them rice, beans and milk. For variety, we sometimes mix it up, he said, and give them milk, beans and rice instead.

We all laughed because we were supposed to, but I remember feeling a little queasy realizing people really do live that way, every day that I'm eating whatever I want and buying new $20 towels because we don't like the color of the old ones, and spending $50 a month on sodas alone, some swollen belly kid is saved from picking garbage out of a dump and given rice, beans, and milk instead for a full month because somebody gave Food for the Poor $5. Father John said the first time a child is given the food they cry like they'd been slapped, they're so overcome by the emotions they feel at having a real bowl of food in front of them.

So tomorrow I'll eat a little bit like them, and I won't cry. I'll probably just get crabby, like I did tonight.

I have no idea why my mood changed so suddenly tonight. There was no reason for it; I was off work, and so was my wife. My son was busy with his school work, and we were all cozy inside while it rained and gusted outside. But suddenly I was cagey as a cat, and everything got on my nerves. The feeling lasted while I made supper, while we ate, and on into the evening. I yelled at both of my kids for the smallest things and when I went to bed, I snapped at my wife and I was so tense I was grinding my teeth and couldn't sleep. Then I remembered that Jesus went into the desert to be tempted by Satan.

Oh, yeah. Satan. He's right here with me.

When I first started my formation with the Abbey out in Ava, Missouri, Brother Louis called me and we had a nice chat. At the end, he said, Watch out for Satan. He doesn't like it when a man tries to grow closer to God. He told me he didn't mean to scare me, but that he'd nearly died once when he was in formation.

I'm tempted to dismiss the idea that Satan really is watching what I do, or that he'd pay much attention to whether I chose to draw closer to God or not. But that's putting the emphasis in the wrong place, on me. What Satan hates is God. And what God gives a man when he draws closer to Him is supernatural dynamite. Every thriving, pulsing Christian is a powerhouse for God, capable of superhuman feats he could never perform on his own. Every superhuman act for God is a devastating blow to Satan. So Satan's here, and he's tempting me, and I totally blew the first round.

When I couldn't sleep, I came upstairs and decided to pen this blog entry, but first I made some notes in my little black journal I'm using for Lent, one with Saint George slaying the dragon decoupaged on the front. I did some free-writing, and what I realized was that I'm feeling discontented with several things: as soon as I decided to do some serious hiking, my heel and my knee went out within a few days of each other, leaving me hobbled up a bit. I want to go to daily Mass, so the single family vehicle becomes a problem because of my wife's new work schedule. I want to be able to use my days off class to get things done, so my son stops cooperating in homeschool. Little things, but between them (and others too mundane to mention) I feel jammed up every time I turn around. I looked at my list for a minute, and wrote "What do you want me to do, Lord?" The answer came to me immediately: PRAY. So I did. It was a short prayer, but I felt like an electrical wire that had just been plugged in. When I opened my eyes, I immediately saw how many times I'd written the word "I" in my list of complaints. At the bottom of the page, I wrote, "FRUSTRATION" and below that, "Thwarted self-will."

There was the answer, of course. I wasn't asking God what he wanted me to do; instead, I spent the day thinking about what I wanted to do, then getting frustrated because nothing was working out. Self-will. I know I have free will, and it's part of the human dignity God gave me. But my call to holiness is a call to bend my self-will to match God's will, then use my freedom to obey him. And I know that whatever God wants me to do, he'll supply what I need to do it. So I won't be frustrated.

Maybe I don't mind Satan being with me as much as I mind the superabundance of me that's tagging along.

So I'm glad that tomorrow and Saturday are fast days. I need some mortification.