Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Catholicism Lent You

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. For all those not raised Catholic or in any proximity to Catholics, this is the day that you notice a bunch of people walking around with a big black mark on their foreheads and are faced with the moral dilemma of if you embarrass them by pointing it out or let them continue walking around looking like that.

For practicing Catholics, it's the first day of Lent, a 40-day season (not counting sundays) of repentance and reflection before the joyous celebration of Easter, when Jesus rose from the dead, fulfilling the prophecy and repaying the debt for all our collective sins past, present, and future.

Now here's the tie-in: The idea of setting aside 40+ days a year to reflect on bad habits and unloving behaviors, and atone for them through ritual, charity, and other means, in preparation to celebrate new life, and the endless second chances that comes with it appears pretty yogically sound to me. I'll spend the rest of this post looking into Catholic Lenten practices in a little more detail and how those practices relate to yoga philosophy in action.

Lent is observed via an interdependent trio of actions: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving or charity. This trio reflects repairing or making amends to the three main relationships in any person's life: between you and your God(dess), between you and yourself, and between you and others.

Specifically, in prayer we reach out to our understanding of the highest power and source of love, expressing sorrow for the times we've failed to follow the guidance of that power, and asking for help to do a better job of that in the future.

In fasting we choose self-discipline over what is easy and comfortable, reaffirming that ultimately our needs are far deeper than food or water - only our highest power and source of love can satisfy our spirit. It's also a practice in strengthening out conscience: doing what we know is best for ourselves and others even when it's less appealing.

In alms-giving or charity, we choose the well-being of others over ourselves. Instead of just practicing non-violence, we take it one step further and positively improve the situations of those around us. We can tie this practice into our ritualistic shows of sorrow for our past mistakes by choosing not to pay for something we usually do: lunch out with friends, a movie on Friday night, a new yoga mat, and using that money to help someone less fortunate. Truly, no one is ever too poor to give, or too rich to receive.

Do with it what you will; it's served me pretty well the last 24 years.

Live Omily,
~em

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