Food plays an increasingly romantic part in our culture. Turn on the TV any night of the week and their are a myriad of shows about all of the delectable food spots and how you too can cook like a professional chef. If you don't watch TV, open Instagram. How many people in your feed today took a picture of their food?
Honestly, I don't understand these pictures. Did you order the food to look at it or eat it? Maybe it looks good but smells like an old shoe. Please stop posting these pictures.
Food, like everything in our lives, can quickly morph from a simple necessity to an obsession. It can become an idol. Not only that, we can, in all of our good intentions, think a Spring Break diet is the same thing as fasting or abstaining for Lent. I once heard a woman admit to giving up cookies for Lent because Spring Break was the week after Easter.
Lent is not a time for losing weight nor is Lent a time for giving up bread to start that healthier lifestyle. Fasting is a spiritual practice that helps us reorient our lives around the one thing that matters: Jesus Christ.
Fasting should not make us mad at the world, our friends, our waist line. Fasting, when done well, leads us to a deeper reliance on God. We take on a temporary suffering to remind us of what Christ did for us and how this inconvenience can help transform our hearts and lives.
As we enter the final few weeks of Lent, it is also important to remember how the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are not simply Lenten practices. They help us bear spiritual fruit throughout our lives.
For example, a priest told me the story of an older woman in his first parish. This woman loved to bake and absolutely adored chocolate. She, however, only ate chocolate on Easter Sunday. When asked about this, the woman told him, "Father, Easter is the most important day of the year. If I had chocolate every other day, it wouldn't be special on Easter. Having my favorite thing on my favorite day is made all the more special because I don't enjoy the rest of the year."
Fasting, simple self-denial prepares us for the glories of Easter and the glories of heaven to come.
1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
My grandparents grew up with little to no visual stimulation from technology. Movies were luxury and TVs and computers weren't even invented. Children today know how to work an iPad before they can speak. We are now from almost the moment of our birth bombarded with visual imagery. This changes things for kids and for those of us who did not grow up iPad in hand.
All of this also helps us to understand what Jesus is trying to do for us today: open our eyes from the darkness of sin so that we might see with His eyes, the eyes of faith, hope, and love.
There he was. Almost every Monday morning about 8:30 am. Bible in hand.
Most people know Tom Crean as the former head coach here at IU. I know him as the kind, considerate, prayerful man who makes a holy hour every Monday at St. Paul's. Rain or shine, game day or recruiting season, when Tom was in Bloomington on Mondays, he was invariably at St. Paul's with his Bible, on his knees, lighting candles for intentions in the Shrine of the Holy Family.
Oh, and once as our staff frantically tried to set up for a funeral on a Monday morning, he asked to help and he started to vacuum the Church.
Four years ago, I ran into Tom as he was lighting candles in the Church. The Hoosiers, a No. 1 seed, had just lost in the Sweet 16 to Syracuse. A great season, for sure, that came up short. We spoke for all of about 10 minutes and, frankly, Tom left a lasting impression on me. Was he disappointed to lose? Absolutely. Crushed, in fact. Was he proud of the season? You bet. What did he talk with me about? The development of character on his team that year.
The 2012-2013 team featured two lottery picks, a no. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, a Big Ten regular season title, the resurgence of IU as a national title contender. And the man at the top wanted, more than anything, to help the young men under his charge to become better men who contribute in a meaningful way to the IU community and beyond.
All too often in our society, we reduce people to what they give to us, what they produce, how they benefit me. For the basketball coach at IU, this is readily apparent. The expectations are high and clear: Win. Fail and you're out. This is a part of the business of college basketball, but it's a tragedy when we start to apply it to the man.
As Christians, we are called to a higher standard than wins and losses, than profits and deficits. Certainly, these things matter in our careers, but we are called to impact hearts, minds, and lives with the way we go about our work.
Here's the challenge for each of us: Am I more concerned with being a person of love and prayer, of generosity and kindness, than I am about profit margins, wins, etc.? If not, you have work to do.
Sacred Scripture is replete with references to the inadequacy, the eternal uselessness of money, wealth, earthly success. In the Book of Ecclesiastes (5:10), we read, "He who loves money will not be satisfied with money; nor he who loves wealth, with gain: this also is vanity." Elsewhere, in the Gospel of Matthew (6:19-21), Jesus tells us, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
Furthermore, the Catechism of the Catholic Church holds nothing back in explaining the importance of putting God and virtuous living before the things of this world: "The beatitude we are promised confronts us with decisive moral choices. It invites us to purify our hearts of bad instincts and to seek the love of God above all else. It teaches us that true happiness is not found in riches or well-being, in human fame or power, or in any human achievement - however beneficial it may be - such as science, technology, and art, or indeed in any creature, but in God alone, the source of every good and of all love: 'All bow down before wealth. Wealth is that to which the multitude of men pay an instinctive homage. They measure happiness by wealth; and by wealth they measure respectability. . . . It is a homage resulting from a profound faith . . . that with wealth he may do all things. Wealth is one idol of the day and notoriety is a second. . . . Notoriety, or the making of a noise in the world - it may be called "newspaper fame" - has come to be considered a great good in itself, and a ground of veneration.'" (CCC 1723)
The stakes are high and real. We have a choice: our career or our eternity, our jobs or our souls. Here's the kicker, though. A saintly janitor, a loving teacher, a kindly manager make work, the office, you name it, a better place.
When we commit our hearts, minds, and souls to love of God and neighbor, the world is a better place no matter the outcome of our endeavors, jobs, careers.
I'll always remember Tom as the man in the third row. A man who, no matter the success or struggles, put his faith and his prayer at the top of his list of priorities; a man more concerned with forming good men than good players.
I pray I remember all of you this way.
My favorite day of the week in college. Now, before you start thinking, "Obviously. You're a priest." My reasons were not pure. On Sundays, I could sleep as late as I wanted and I got to go to Mass -- sinner that I am and was I have always loved the Mass -- plus, on many Sundays of the year, they would send me home with the leftovers from our Campus Ministry meals. There was one week when we ordered way too much fried chicken; I didn't have to buy food for over a week.
The thing of it is, I didn't have to worry that much about money and food in college. As comfortable and blessed as I was in college, I was ever too happy to take a hand out and ever too ready to keep what I had (and had in abundance) to myself.
For many in college, we feel as if we should be the one's receiving, not giving, alms. College (and everything connected with it) is very expensive. Thus, during Lent, we can fall into the trap of prioritizing the Lenten practices of prayer and fasting while almost completely neglecting almsgiving. This is understandable. This is contrary to our call as disciples.
It is true I can't give money or things away I do not already possess -- Robin Hood, notwithstanding -- but I can and I must in some way provide for those who are worse off than I am. How, then, can I do this on a small budget with limited time?
First, seek resources. In most college towns, there are many opportunities to serve those in need. On campus, in the community, at the Newman Center, you probably don't have to look far to find a good cause. In our parish, we have the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Interfaith Winter Shelter, who work specifically with the poor. In Bloomington, there is a food pantry (Mother Hubbard's Cupboard), several soup kitchens, a Women's Care Center, and many more. All you need to do is ask.
Second, small gifts are as meaningful as big gifts. You might be able to only spend a few hours a week or month serving others or you might only be able to put $5 a month in the collection at Church. This might dissuade you from serving or giving, but every gift, no matter how small is infinite in its capacity for the good. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus lauds the widow who gave what little she had. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had.” (Luke 21:3-4)
Third, the poor are everywhere. We have tendency to think we must prioritize and serve only the materially poor. The reality is there are many types of poverty. On a college campus like IU, we might not find a large number of materially poor, but there are a huge number of spiritually and emotionally poor people. Serve who the Lord puts in your midst.
Finally, the gift of time saves souls. I have only been a priest for a short time, yet I cannot count the number of times I have heard something along these lines, "All he/she was spend time with me. He/She loved me and that was what I needed most." When we give our hearts and love to others, we give them the greatest gift we can. Don't be afraid to spend time listening and comforting. You might save that person's soul with a simple, profound gift of yourself and the Holy Spirit who dwells within you.