I know yesterday was Ash Wednesday.

Finally had some time to reflect on the Lenten season ahead. It’ll be another day or two before I write about it. A “hot take” on a holy time is not something to strive for.

Starting Lent without a “Bang”

It’s the eve of Ash Wednesday, and I still haven’t nailed down how I’ll observe Lent.

I did spend some time this afternoon tinkering with YouTube to remove suggestions for “Big Bang Theory” clips from my feed there. It dawned on me recently that I’ve frittered away an awful lot of time the past few weeks mindlessly clicking on “Big Bang” clips to distract me from my various anxieties. The show has become comfort food for me, with particularly empty calories. And I’ve gained a lot of suffocating weight.

So, I’m done with “Big Bang” on YouTube for Lent. There’s that. It’s not much. But it’s a start.

CCD was canceled today; the schedule conflicted with a medical appointment for the teacher.

Given my mindset lately, part of me was kind of relieved. But it’s also unfortunate to not have church class for F just before Lent starts.

Maybe for Lent, I can give up social media. Maybe instead, I can write here every day.

Forty-plus days away from Catholic Twitter and Catholic Instagram, among other platforms, could only be restorative.

Lent is coming, and I’m frankly not very excited about it. Disenchanted with a lot of Church-related things right now. But not necessarily with God-related things. There’s a bit of a difference, as far as I’m concerned.

The Catholic far right has ruined a lot for me. Tired of it.

Biden: The lesser of two "bad Catholic" evils?

Outside the pope and God himself, I don’t know if anybody really has the right to call anyone a “bad Catholic.” (That said, I am the first person to call myself one.) But Fr. Whitfield makes some very good points in his piece:

Biden, undoubtedly, represents a highly educated but poorly catechized, barely converted, cultural Catholicism, formed quite nobly but equally vaguely by a faint account of social justice but which is as substantially Catholic as having once gone to parochial school or Notre Dame. Which is to say, very little. Yet it is a bad Catholicism that differs from another bad Catholicism, a religion itself deformed, principally economically. These, of course, are the bad Catholics of the political right, but who didn’t win. …

… as we welcome this new president, we shouldn’t make much of his Catholicism. Biden shouldn’t make much of it himself; but instead, like me and his fellow bad Catholics, work out his own salvation in fear and trembling. It’s also why Catholics must resist the cheap identarian pride of having a co-religionist in the Oval Office. That, and because the religious veneration of politicians always deforms the venerators. Of this we have had enough.

I am definitely to the right of Biden on the abortion issue. (I’m not sure what Fr. Whitfield is talking about when he mentions Biden’s “willful refusal to embrace the integral moral vision Catholicism describes,” but I’m willing to find out and explore what that means.) I wish he didn’t feel the need to ditch what had once been a clearer-cut opposition to abortion for the sake of political viability.

That said, I appreciate the breath of fresh air that is Biden’s clearly deep and sincere faith, however “poorly catechized” it might be. (I cringed when he mused at tonight’s COVID-19 memorial about “if there are angels in heaven.” A lame, tossed-off line, probably, but still.)

If I agree with Fr. Whitfield on anything, it’s the point about resisting “cheap identarian pride” – something that I am guilty of in recent weeks – about having a fellow Catholic in office. It’s that kind of ideological and allegedly faith-based pride that fueled the Trump train for years. (”Baby Christian,” my ass.) If we’re looking for role models to emulate, best to look to the saints and not, say, politicians.

This weekend’s Sunday Mass video from Holy Name Cathedral opened with one of the few contemporary Catholic hymns I actually like: “Here I Am, Lord.”

The hymn reminded me of when I drove 3 hours from Raleigh, North Carolina, to see Mother Teresa speak in 1995. The song was featured after her talk at the Charlotte Coliseum, and I remember weeping throughout.

I was thrilled to find Mother Teresa’s talk on YouTube. I look forward to viewing it again; I confess that I was so absorbed in the moment and the experience of seeing a living saint that I only remember a small handful of snippets from it (namely where she spoke up against abortion and pleaded to give her a child poised to die in a clinic). So delighted to be able to see her speech again and actually listen closely.

Right-wing extremists destroy the Church

So, I ended up on some right-wing Catholic organization’s mailing list and got a magazine in my mailbox today. Between the articles and the accompanying letter listing in detail the way the current pope is destroying the Church (not to mention the world), I was done with this mailing in all of 2 minutes.

I took the letter (addressed to “Mr. Joyce Garcia”) and promptly scribbled, “PLEASE REMOVE ME FROM YOUR MAILING LIST” across the top, added the postscript “God bless Pope Francis,” signed it MS. Joyce Garcia, and put it in the included envelope — with my own stamps so I pay for my own enraged reaction — for mailing tomorrow.

(I think I also tucked into the envelope the little form they included to accommodate banking information to allow them to siphon donations from a bank account.)

Look, I may have my differences with the present pope (as I have with every pope of the past several decades), but the level of vitriol and calumny leveled against him is out of control. And calumny and its sister sin, detraction, are cut from the same cloth of evil. Both are sins when directed against anybody, but especially against the Holy Father.

The Church has enough problems without having to deal with divisive conspiracy theorists among its members spewing rage and hate.

At the end of the prayer of Spiritual Communion, the priest in today’s video Mass from Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago added, “And may the Bears beat the Packers.”

I’m not sure that’s what St. Alphonsus Ligouri had in mind when he composed that particular prayer.

Our parish has confession time for the CCD kids Saturday morning. Time to help F brush up on the sacrament. Hoping that starting with this video – a light, kid-friendly skit that is more endearing than I’d expect an “SNL” bit about confession to be – makes that process less daunting.

Joined Frannie yesterday for her CCD homework: Watch the 2012 film “For Greater Glory,” a drama about the Cristeros uprising to fight Mexico’s violent crackdown on the Catholic Church in the 1920s.

I was iffy about the idea of a 12-year-old watching a bloody 2.5-hour tale of martyrdom. But this one was a deeply affecting, powerful story of faith that was worth every minute of viewing. ¡Viva Cristo Rey!

Reclining at Advent

Advent begins today. I could be in a reflective and meditative mode, setting up our wreath and candles for the season.

Instead, I’m relaxing under a fleece throw, watching random episodes of Ken Burns’ “Baseball,” on my early Christmas gift: an enormous cuddly recliner that I’ve been wanting for years. This is the kind of comfort I have craved for a long time.

I could be holier at this moment. But as this terrible 2020 begins to wind down, my gut tells me I really need this kind of extended hug before I start this new liturgical year.

Today’s Google search, crux of agonizing soul-searching, and journal prompt: “How Catholic do I have to be?”

Taking another stab at a faith community online

Created a new faith-based Twitter list of only nuns, consecrated virgins, a handful of priests and bishops, and maybe a layperson or two. This is in an effort to build an online Catholic community of prayer I can tap that isn’t cliquish or politically charged. Most online priests are awfully mansplainy, overly opinionated, and far more full of themselves than the nuns, I’ve noticed. Too many priests and bishops on social media leave me disheartened and deeply annoyed.

I’m still craving a sense of religious community that I left when I returned to Rome. Diocesan Catholic culture is bereft of coffee hours and bonding among parishioners, especially in this time of pandemic. It’s clear that individual Catholics have to build that sense of community themselves, which explains in part why I see a lot of effort to bond among folks in the world of #CatholicTwitter.

That effort, for me, is undermined these days by the QAnon Catholic conspiracy theorists who are dividing the American Church. I destroyed a previous faith-based Twitter list because too much political and conspiratorial uproar was infiltrating the conversations.

The minute I see any political tweets or supportive retweets from the likes of the Daily Caller, Trump, Catholic extremists like Taylor Marshall or the Church Militant crowd, or any number of right-wing (or far left) sources, I’ll 86 the list member. I’m disheartened enough by the secular political climate; I’m trying desperately to maintain a sense of hope and civility about my Church. And so far, I’m not doing very well.

Trading one set of anxieties for another

Been disinclined to blog much lately. I post sporadically on Twitter and, to a lesser degree, on Facebook and Instagram.

In recent weeks, I’ve tended to direct my energy outside work and family to following a Twitter list I created with political feeds. I called it my “Doomscrolling” list. I came to my senses this week and deleted the list, leaving my other Twitter lists focusing on faith, sports, and video gaming.

This is the third Doomscrolling list I’ve deleted on my Twitter account. I created this last one as the last weeks of the presidential campaign heated up. I even clung to it during my private retreat a couple of weeks ago, a few days after the election.

I’ve been steeped in anxiety and anger for months now, alternating my attention between the pandemic and politics; sometimes the two areas would overlap. Sometimes my thoughts about faith would in turn overlap with these other areas. But more often than not, the pandemic and politics would suffocate my attention to faith.

I’m long past the point where I’ve burned out on politics. (At this point, I pray to be secure enough in the knowledge that God has got this, and that the transition crisis will be resolved.) But I remain anxious – and am perhaps more so than ever – about the spread of the coronavirus. This, too, needs to be entrusted to God, but not without action on our parts: We will certainly continue to be masked and sanitized and close to home as much as possible. That said, it’s easier to weave faith into our pandemic life; I find myself praying a lot for people, particularly those who have lost loved ones to the virus or are otherwise in the thick of this latest wave of infections. Even on Twitter, I pray along a lot more as I come across requests for prayer and other needs.

But I have a long way to go in keeping my anxieties in check, persisting in prayer, and trusting in God.

One of the purchases from my first visit to an honest-to-God, brick-and-mortar Catholic bookstore in months. Eager to dive in this weekend.

Happy feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I received my first brown scapular a year ago at my local parish, and upgraded to this plain wool one from a maker on Etsy. (Forgive the worn, pilled look; it’s actually nicer-looking in person – albeit still worn and only slightly pilled.)

I’ve not persevered in the devotion much in recent months, aside from wearing it. This is probably a good day to start anew.

“Much of the evangelical movement, in aligning itself with Donald Trump, has shown itself to be graceless and joyless, seized by fear, hypocritical, censorious, and filled with grievances. That is not true of all evangelicals, of course, and it’s not true of all evangelicals who are Trump supporters. But it’s true of enough of them, and certainly of the political leadership of the white evangelical movement, to have done deep injury to their public witness.”

Celebrating the Word on our own

Looks like Magnificat has ended its free “Celebration of the Word” PDF distribution to help families pray along with the Liturgy of the Word on Sundays. I can understand why: More dioceses are allowing public celebration of Mass again, and it’s understandable to encourage Catholics to return to Sunday Mass. Many of those same dioceses (including ours), however, haven’t reimposed the Sunday obligation, given that plenty of people remain wary of collective worship for fear of COVID-19 infection.

As I mentioned last weekend, I’m starting to return to Sunday Mass at our parish; however, with no Sunday obligation for now and all the COVID-19 complications, I had resolved to keep F home for now and set aside time for us to go through the Celebration of the Word together.

The end of the Celebration PDF distribution complicates that plan, of course. So, I went ahead and created a Celebration of the Word document template, based on the basic Magnificat-created PDF structure, and added this Sunday’s readings and several prayers to align with the liturgy (but not replicate all of it word-for-word, as much of the Mass liturgy requires a priest). Included are the Apostles’ Creed, an Act of Spiritual Communion, and the Hail Mary and prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the end. F needs to learn the Apostles Creed and the St. Michael prayer anyway, so it seemed a good way to introduce her to those.

Meanwhile, I’m registered for tomorrow’s 7 a.m. Mass. (Registration is intended to help the parish ensure manageable, socially distanced attendance.) Not my favorite time to attend, but I’m still looking forward to it. Then, Lord willing, I’ll come home and F and I will have our own Celebration and connect with God together. Pray for us.

In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton says that retreating into solitude should not be used as an escape from the world but as a means to live more fully in it. “Go into the desert,” he wrote, “not to escape other men but in order to find them in God.”

~ John Dougherty, “Don’t feel guilty about taking a retreat from Trump,” America

A good time for comebacks

It somehow seemed appropriate to return to Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi (or the eve of Corpus Christi, as I attended the Saturday vigil Mass). Our parish, under guidance from the archdiocese, began offering Sunday Mass last weekend, but I didn’t feel ready to return then. But it was time this weekend.

Started out my Saturday afternoon at church in a makeshift confessional, set up in the parish cry room, I guess to allow for easier disinfecting after each confession. After four months in an inert spiritual state, it felt good to “get back on the wagon,” as the priest put it, and start fresh with God’s grace.

I was allowed to stay for the 5 p.m. Mass, and that gave me a half-hour to sit and realize how much I missed being in church. I also realized how much I need a more breathable mask.

The experience wasn’t ideal in a few respects: I couldn’t really hear the priest well, I forgot to wear the beret headcovering I use in church, I forgot to bow before receiving, and I received in the hand (like the archdiocesan rules said I had to) when it turned out that plenty of people were able to receive at the communion rail on the tongue, as I prefer. I felt out of practice. But I was still glad to be back.

The Sunday obligation remains suspended in our archdiocese, but I’m going to try to keep going – and I might even try to hit a weekday Mass here and there. In the meantime, I’m not going to take F with me until the obligation is in place again and the pandemic rules are relaxed a bit. And then I have to set up time with the pastor to see when she can begin receiving the Eucharist.

F and I have been using “Celebration of the Word” handouts and her new subscription of Magnifikids! from Magnificat magazine each Sunday morning to read through the Liturgy of the Word, pray, and learn a bit about feasts and other things that I thought she learned in her Episcopal Catechesis of the Good Shepherd lessons (but didn’t!). She seems to be connecting with this Sunday time more than she tended to at services in our old Episcopal parish, so I’m in no hurry to stop it.

It’s been a good weekend to contemplate God and start over with Him. Deeply grateful.

Hunkering down this weekend to make sense of the world with Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, and the Psalms. My brain needs a little peace right now.

Very happy to see this statement on the death of George Floyd from top leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, including Auxiliary Bp. Joseph Perry of Chicago, one of the highest-ranking African-Americans in the Church.

For what it’s worth, Bp. Perry is one of my favorite church leaders. He’s a liturgical traditionalist and a fine advocate for African-Americans in the Church. My everyday rosary was blessed by him at St. John Cantius parish in Chicago about two decades ago. God bless him.

Our next-door neighbor, a King James Version-only fundamentalist, mows her grass twice a week. When we moved in, her two biggest concerns were (1) whether we were saved, and (2) how we kept up our yards.

I really hope for her sake that her little patch of heaven has a lawn.

“Peale drew throngs of followers, but also sharp criticism from Christians who accused him of cherry-picking Bible verses and peddling simplistic solutions.

But the young Donald Trump was hooked.”