In the summer of 2009, my husband and I went to a reunion on his side of the family. Aunt Lucia told a story about John’s grandmother. I never met Grandma Bossert. She passed away long before I married into the family. But Aunt Lucia said Grandma had a little black skirt. She’d owned it for as long as Aunt Lucia could remember. Grandma used the skirt as a kind of measuring tape to monitor weight gain. When she couldn’t get the side zipper to zip, she would cut back on what she ate until it fit her again.
I’ve seen pictures of Grandma Bossert. She looked like a Hollywood star even when she was well into her sixties, thanks to that little skirt and constant vigilance.
Our Church calendar is like Grandma’s skirt.
On fat Tuesday, we try on our spiritual skirts, and we realize that we have gotten a little out of shape. Our baptismal vows aren’t fitting like they should. And for 40 days, we submit to the process of self-denial and service to others. We ask for the grace to reorder our disordered lives, so that on Easter morning, we are ready to meet the Risen Lord.
We have ways of measuring our progress just as Grandma Bossert had her side zipper. We know what to do when things are out of control. Oh, we don’t have to put on sad faces and act sullen about the self-denial. Even Grandma Bossert could put on a thirty-dish meal for family while simultaneously keeping her eyes on that little black skirt. In fact, she let the season of self-denial turn her focus outward. Her attention went to those around her. Did they have enough to eat? Had they seen the Spätzle? Did they need more coffee?
Her focus was on the needs of those around her, even as she quietly modified her own habits.
That’s how we should be during Lent. We should remain faithful to our Lenten promises even as we let our energies turn outward. How can we simultaneously deny ourselves and also meet the needs of those in our midst? The Church has the answer: forty days of re-ordering our lives and offering ourselves up for others. We become more like Christ when we enter into the season of Lent.
At the end of 40 days, we know that we could let things fall apart again, or we can ask God for the grace to keep our lives in right order. Lessons learned during Lent stay with us – if we let them.
We learn to love. We learn how to be holy. We ask for the grace to overcome our weaknesses. When we have self-doubt and don’t think we can make it, we study the lives of the saints and get inspired. We pick ourselves up and do a serious examination of conscience. We submit to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and lose the baggage we carry. We begin and end each day with a simple dedication of our day to God.
We make progress in personal sanctification by actively engaging the season of Lent. The spiritual equivalent to a little black skirt and an act of the will.
Go ahead. Do some self-assessment. Does the skirt fit? There are so many ways to learn to be holy – as many ways as there are Lenten promises. Pick one. Keep your promise. Turn your energy outward to those in need. Eventually your spiritual skirt will fit like a glove.
And just like Grandma Bossert, you will move about your kitchen with grace and dignity, asking everyone around you, Have you seen the Spätzle? I made it just for you.