February 14th, 2016

Lopsided Lent

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(This is an old column of mine that originally appeared at InsideCatholic.)

I am not a crafty mom, but I sometimes let fantasy and ambition get the best of me.

Two days before the start of Lent this year, my oldest daughter reminded me of a family activity we had done together many Lents ago. It was a craft I had read about in one of those “Living the Catholic Family Liturgical Year” kinds of books. You know the kind – filled with inspiring recipes for St. Francis Xavier goulash and guilt-inducing photos of family harmony, coupled with breathtaking examples of liturgically themed crafting perfection composed entirely of marshmallows, pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, gumdrops, cotton balls, googly eyes, glitter, and glue.

I have nothing against these kinds of books. In fact, I enjoy browsing through collections of Catholic crafts and recipes. It’s just that I have come to recognize and accept the enormous chasm that exists between the contents of their pages and a little thing I fondly refer to as Reality in a Household of Ten.

The craft my daughter remembered was simple enough. At the start of Lent that year, we made papier-mâché eggs. We painted them, cut small slits in their sides, marked them with our names, and displayed them in a prominent place. Then, throughout Lent, we performed good deeds for one another, said secret prayers, and thought of special compliments and blessings we could give one another. For 40 days, we wrote these down on small pieces of paper and slipped them into each other’s eggs. Finally, on Easter morning, we cut open our paper eggs and enjoyed reading the secret gifts others had given us during the Lenten season.

My daughter’s happy memory of the project was enough to spark renewed interest on my part. The next thing I knew, I was racing through the aisles of WalMart, tossing poster paint and balloons (for the papier-mâché!) in my cart. By the time I came to, I was seated at the dining room table, surrounded by sloppy bowls of goop, eager sticky hands, and torn strips of newspaper.

The balloons were… rather large. Okay, they were enormous – as in 10 inches to a foot long. I blame McDonald’s. There simply was no convincing any one of my children that a papier-mâché egg need not be super-sized.

Then there was the newspaper. Does anyone read newspapers anymore? Well, we don’t. I had found it necessary to swipe a pile of those car ad “magazines” you usually find stacked inside the front doors of the supermarket. The print was dark and multi-colored. Even once the papier-mâché dried and we painted them, our eggs still were plastered with visible Ford F-150’s with electric power steering and Jeep Wrangler Unlimiteds with low mileage. Not exactly Lenten inspiration.

When our Lenten eggs were finished, we placed them on the shelves of a cabinet in the dining room. They were colorful, original, lopsided, and real.

Just like us, I thought.

Distinctive though they are, I am leaving our papier-mâché eggs right where they sit, on display in my dining room. Because, you see, the children are already busy filling them. With notes about beds made, lollipops left, and secret favors done. With words of encouragement and blessing. With love.

At Mass on Ash Wednesday, five-year-old Raphael’s chocolate eyes blinked wide and innocent beneath the priest’s thumb as he received his ashes.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

No, he is not! I wanted to interrupt. Not this sweet and perfect child! Not this boy who still blushes at the sound of praise and leaves his favorite shells from our beach vacation on my pillow for a secret surprise. He is not dust, and to dust he shall not return!

And yet he is. And he will.

I watched as his immaculate forehead was marked with the sign of the cross and felt an overwhelming sense of grief and sorrow for sin, for the poor and fallen nature of man – and yet, at the same time, a rush of gratitude for our redemption.

Because we already know the secret happy ending.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer! (Exsultet)

He came for us. For you, for me; for my children, and for yours. Because we need Him. Because we are lopsided and empty eggs. Because we need Him who saves, who fills, who completes us. We need Him who gives us life. This Lent, this Easter, and always. Amen and alleluia.

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