Tag Archives: Lent

7 Quick Takes on Debt, Lent, and Grammar


— 1 —

I have officially paid off my first student loan!

I honestly didn’t think I could do it. I read The Total Money Makeover. I’ve considered the merits of the debt snowball versus the debt avalanche versus every other method of debt repayment. Using YNAB meant that I had to save up cash for Christmas, car repairs, annual bills, and a trip to my friend’s wedding in Boston. (That last one hasn’t happened yet.) I thought I would be on the “slow and steady (and expensive)” plan for the next many years.

Then I wrote the check to my lender. And now that loan is gone!

I have four more, and the last one is several times the one I just paid off, but gaining this momentum gives me so much joy. I couldn’t have done it without realizing that You (I) Need a Budget.

— 2 —

National Grammar Day was two weeks ago, but I took Grammarly’s “What Kind of Grammar Lover Are You?” quiz just last week.

The Pedant's Grammarian

I’m choosing to see this as a good thing.

— 3 —

As it turns out, I only subscribed to one set of daily Lenten emails: the series by Fr. Robert Barron. They are so good, guys. His message on the Parable of the Prodigal Son helped me see it in a whole new light. I finally understood the role of the father a few years ago, and now I understand the non-prodigal son, too. Mind blown.

— 4 —

I did not subscribe to Best Lent Ever, because I don’t always find Matthew Kelly meeting me where I am, but this video about the one thing that keeps him (and me) Catholic is fantastic. Just watch it. (I can’t embed it. Sharing fail.)

— 5 —

These quick takes have taken me so long that I’m going to call it a day with five. If you’re itching for more, check out my post today for Austin CNM about confession. Anyone can tell you how to go or why. I’ve got insider tips. Check them out and add your own in the comments!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

Best Confession Ever: 5 Things You Should Do Before Confession (and 5 While You’re In There)

I go to Confession. I am not always “in great need of Confession,” as a priest once phrased it, but I have found it to be good for me. I go once a month whether I really think I need to or not, and there is always a particular routine I follow. I like routines.

Even if you’re not as frequent a penitent as I am (or you go more often), Lent is a penitential season. The Church places a particular emphasis on the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation (popularly known as Confession) during this season, recommending it in her precepts. If you’ve been putting off Confession for a while, or even if you’ve already decided to go before Easter, here is some advice for having the Best Confession Ever.

1. Figure out how long it has been since your last Confession.

Maybe it’s been a while: several weeks, a few years, or since your last major sacrament. I was in those shoes once. I can tell you from experience that it gets significantly easier if you go more often. You have less time to get into trouble!

Isolating that time frame is also useful because the gravity of your sins can change depending on the passage of time. If you’ve told 6 lies and stolen things from work twice and drank too much 3 times, and your last Confession was 3 weeks ago, that’s a much bigger deal than if it was 3 months ago.

2. Review your life since your last Confession.

I start by looking at my calendar. That usually jogs my memory of my most recent poor choices. This is when my gratitude for the sacrament rises exponentially.

This is also the time to do an examination of conscience. I highly recommend doing that before you leave home if you are going to the church specifically for Confession. Should the line move quickly, you’ll be prepared. If you’re on a retreat or at a Reconciliation/Penance Service, there will probably be a designated time for your examination. My favorite is based on the Ten Commandments and focuses on specific actions I might have committed that break them. I have never made it through that list without spotting something familiar. That may or may not be a good thing.

Read the rest at Austin CNM.

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago, I did one thing that would change my life forever.

I went to church.

I had been to church before. I knew how it went. I’ve never been anything other than Catholic, but for a long time, I was nothing, really. My first boyfriend accused me of “paying lip service” to my Catholicism. I had to look that up; he was right, and I was offended because it was true. I prayed (for chastity, actually). I gave up sodas for Lent. That worked. I gave up chocolate another year, and that worked, too. (I now eat chocolate and drink soda.) Beyond that, I knew only enough to check the “Catholic” box. Literally, I checked the box next to “Roman Catholic” on the optional religious preference form during freshman orientation.

That was the extent of it. Up to a few weeks before that day, the last time I had set foot in a church was for my great-grandmother’s funeral. My mom bought me a suit. I did one of the readings. I’m good at reading. Then I went for Christmas, to see my little brother as a king in the children’s pageant. I don’t remember anything more about either of those days. Not the homily. Not what it was like to be in church after being gone for so long. Not whether I felt comfortable or uncomfortable.

I don’t even remember exactly when I made the decision to go back. (How is its own story.) I do know that I picked the day very carefully. Ash Wednesday is not a day of forgiveness. It’s not the Catholic version of Yom Kippur. We don’t really have a Catholic day of forgiveness. Yet Ash Wednesday is the one day when everyone comes out of the woodwork: more than Christmas, more than Easter, even more than Mother’s Day (the highest days of attendance, in order).

Something about Ash Wednesday says, “Come.” So I went.

I was a little afraid to go back that first time. I had never been to the Catholic Student Center. I knew it was within walking distance, and I didn’t have a car anyway, but I could read a map. (This was before I had a smartphone, so it was a real, giant paper campus map that I carried around in my giant purse.) In my fear, I asked a buddy to go with me. She had graduated from Catholic school with a healthy dose of skepticism but not so much that she wouldn’t go to church with me. We walked across campus together and found seats in the packed chapel.

No single homily has stuck with me more than the one I heard that day. Fr. Bill Byrne is a great preacher. Every day is a good day to preach a homily on forgiveness, and I owe my spiritual life to the one he gave to us college kids on Ash Wednesday, February 9, 2005. The central story went like this:

Imagine that, one day, your parents show up and bring you a brand new car. Lexus, Range Rover, whatever your dream car is. They tell you it is a special present just for you. It’s beautiful, and the license plate says “4PRECIOUS.” You love it! You drive it around campus, showing it off. It’s a great car. But one day, you get into a wreck, and the car is totaled. You’re ashamed and sad, and you finally get the courage to tell your parents about it. “No problem,” they say. “We’ll get you a new one.” And before you know it, you have another brand-new car, just like the old one. Same license plate and everything.

This time you’re way more careful, and you do everything you can to protect it, but it gets totaled again. You can’t even believe it, and when you tell your parents, they say, “No problem, sweetie. The new one’s already on the way.”

The love of God is like that. He gives you everything. You screw up. He gives it all back to you. All you have to do is ask. He loves you so much that he will never deny you forgiveness and will give all the grace back to you, every single time.

I needed to hear that. Oh, I’m sure that years of pastoral training and experience had taught Fr. Bill that most people in the pews need to hear Christ’s message of forgiveness. I’m not so arrogant as to think that he actually gave that homily just for me.

But it worked. Four days later, I dragged myself out of bed before noon on Sunday and walked halfway across campus to the larger Memorial Chapel for Mass. I sat toward the back (but not in the back; I was never that kid) and stumbled my way through the Creed. I nailed all the songs from the hymnal, though. I’m a pretty good sight-reader. I’m reasonably certain received Communion that day, and on Ash Wednesday, although I should not have. (I have since repented. Let’s not pretend that doesn’t happen.) And it was okay.

So I went back the next Sunday, and the next.

Soon, I cornered Fr. Bill for an ambush confession. (I don’t recommend the ambush.) It was face-to-face. He didn’t know me from Adam; what did I have to fear? I stuck with the big ones. He gave me four Hail Marys as penance: one for each year I’d been away from the Church.

When I went home for spring break, I went to Mass with my dad, who was preparing for baptism through RCIA. (That is not a coincidence.) I missed one Sunday by oversleeping when I got home for the summer, but that was the only one.

I don’t miss Mass anymore. At the peak, I went to Mass six days a week. You barely have to meet me to know that I’m in it for good.


A solemn face, but a peace-filled one.

It all started that Ash Wednesday. It’s not obligatory, but it sure is popular. It’s not aimed at forgiveness so much as repentance, but sometimes it works.

I’m praying for those “sometimers” because one of them was me.

7 Quick Takes on Lent, Harry Potter, and Tiny Humans


— 1 —

Prepare yourself. Lent is coming.

The hip thing to do this year is to remind everyone that Lent is coming. Now I’ve memed it, so it’s extra cool.

Check your Mass times now. Remember that Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, although it is good to go to Mass that day. (I like to call it a holy day of non-obligation. Also try to figure out how many daily reflection emails you signed up for and pare them down. (That last one might be a reminder just for me.)

My Ash Wednesday pet peeve: if you want ashes, get them in Mass, and do not leave early. Then you have to repent for leaving early. That’s not a good way to start the season. You’re supposed to repent of the sins you already committed, not work on new ones.

— 2 —

I have found it extremely helpful over these many years observing Lent to treat it less like a marathon and more like a restart to ordinary (or New Year’s) resolutions. Lent is not supposed to be an epic quest to sustain one sacrifice “from ashes to Easter.” It’s okay if you fail along the way or even change what you’re doing. Just don’t give up.

Thus, I suggest you test out your Lenten fasting, almsgiving, and/or prayer early. Today’s a good day. If you’re going to pray the Morning Offering every day, pray it right now. It might not be morning as you read this, but ever is better than never. By Wednesday, you’ll be well on your way to making it a habit to be practiced during Lent and for life… or you will have chosen something different.

Kendra’s post is the best I’ve ever seen for Lenten sacrifice suggestions. There has to be something on that list you can actually do and should probably be doing anyway. (The thought of leaving dirty dishes out overnight makes me shudder. Get flies once and you’ll never do it again.) Become a better person during Lent.

Get holy or die tryin'.

(Button and other items available from CatholicToTheMax.com.

— 3 —

So what am I doing for Lent? I’m not telling. I’ve been working on it for a long time, though, and I am tired of taking it to Confession, so this is it.

Additional pet peeve: When did it become cool to say, “Actually, instead of giving up something, you should take up something,” with a snooty voice and everything? This is a faith of both/and. You are not less holy if you give up chocolate. If you want to give up chocolate, do it, and don’t let anyone make you feel like it’s not good enough. Something is always better than nothing.

If you feel like giving up chocolate is not good enough, then pick something more challenging. But don’t be bullied into it.

— 4 —

I think it was actually that 66 Outside-the-Box Lenten Sacrifices post that made me realize I should probably be reading Kendra’s blog regularly. I admire the ladies of the Catholic blogosphere who can keep it real, preach the Truth, and be effortlessly humorous.

So I saw her Harry Potter post. Yes, please! I knew she was a fan, as are her oldest two kids, and I’m pretty sure she’s written a Harry Potter apologia before, but I think her recent post about why Catholics and other Christians can still love Harry Potter despite all the magic is marvelous.

Key points:

  • Yes, evil is real. So is Satan. We should avoid evil and Satan. The books have no references to Satan or the devil at all, and they come down pretty heavily against evil and in favor of good.
  • Everyone who has magical powers in Harry Potter was born that way. No one can get those powers if they don’t already have them. Nobody makes a deal with the devil, worships him, or calls upon him in order to do magic.
  • Catholicism condemns magic specifically for its ability to convince people to follow false gods or invoke powers from an unidentified source. Harry & Co. don’t seem to have any gods or religion at all.
  • J.K. Rowling is a Christian (Presbyterian, specifically) and has said she intended every Christian reference and theme in the books. They’re impossible to miss.

I think her defense is spot-on. Christians love supernatural powers—the ones that come from God (e.g. answers to prayer, miraculous healings, raising the dead, and salvation). Not everything supernatural is bad. Kendra did a great job partly because she’s a great writer but also because “all magic is evil, thus Harry Potter is evil” is a specific topic to discuss. She paid attention on Thesis Statement Day in English class; I can tell.

— 5 —

I got to hold three babies on Sunday. It was glorious! Here is a photo of me with Joseph. I am looking at the camera enough for both of us.


So much cuddling. I also have enough joy for both of us.

I got baby photobombed by the other two tiny humans. Kat is on the right, and the very top of Lily’s head is on the left.

— 6 —

I think I might have seen an improv show when I was in college. I was definitely into seeing a cappella groups. Regardless of whether it was my first improv show ever, I went to see my friend Katie’s current show on Saturday at the Hideout Theatre. It’s called Wanderlust, so every show is about travel. She was one of the featured performers in the story of old college buddies road-tripping from the Midwest to Disney World. I was impressed with their ability to build the story as they went and to portray so many emotions.

If you’re in town, I recommend it. Katie won’t be featured anymore, but the show runs through February.

— 7 —

I also went to confession on Saturday. I only had to wait about 30 minutes instead of the usual hour. Small victories!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum.

7 Quick Takes on My Shipping, Techie, and Lenten Skills

— 1 —

I am so glad that today is Friday! The week blew by, and I had an unusually busy day at work, so I am very appreciative of the two days of no working ahead.

On a related note, I am absolutely adding “skilled at packing and shipping” to my résumé in the future.

— 2 —

I survived the Weekend Without Wi-fi, although it was a close call. If I hadn’t had 4G LTE on my iPhone, I probably would have fallen apart completely. I used it sparingly, though, because I have never gone over my data allowance and I am not about to start just when I’m crawling out of the broke hole I was in for most of last year.

I used my time helping my now-old roommate move out, cleaning the house like I do every other Saturday, cooking dinner, and watching A Series of Unfortunate Events. I also managed to finally unpack my last box from my own move in July. Hooray! The walls in my room are still mostly bare, but I have my framed photos up now, so it looks like I actually live here now.

Sunday was a much easier day to be without wi-fi. Reading a real book while eating breakfast (instead of getting sucked into BuzzFeed) was the best motivator for getting my hair and grocery shopping done before Mass. I lectored, we counted the collection unusually quickly, we ate at Jason’s Deli, and I survived the ridiculously blustery night to swing by Target on the way home.

— 3 —

By the time I got home from work on Monday, we had wi-fi again! Well, almost. My new roommate, Samantha, had come home to let in the Internet guy, and he had hooked up the modem to my laptop with an actual Ethernet cable. That was the first time since I moved to Austin that I’d been hard-wired to the Internet.

You see, I discovered when I signed up for service that we could save about $12 a month by switching to a modem-only setup, as opposed to our previous “wireless modem.” I had not known such a thing existed before I moved in here. It was handy to have just one box, but we have plenty of tech space since we’re not gamers or big media people.

So when I got home, I completed the setup on my wired-up laptop, then immediately set up the wireless router I’d purchased when I had this same provider during my first year in Austin. I had to do a factory reset (with a paperclip and everything) since I have no clue what the old password was, but it worked. I gave the router a nice, holy name and a strong password, and I even remembered to change the router login credentials.

And I did all of that in about 40 minutes while reheating and eating a bowl of leftover homemade turkey chili. My stealth techie card is still valid!

— 4 —

I celebrated Fat Tuesday excellently this year. Some friends and I met at a local restaurant for dinner. I ate so much that I actually had a mild stomachache, but it paid off in my ability to skip breakfast and wait until lunch to eat on Ash Wednesday.


I should have taken a photo of my king cake before I ate it. The remnants should attest to its deliciousness regardless.

I have been remarkably social for the last few weeks, and although it is taking a lot of energy, it feels good to be out having fun. The world through my computer screen is only so big.

— 5 —

This was one of the better Ash Wednesdays I’ve had in a while. It was so strange to not have to work extra hard. I did miss seeing the Ash Wednesday Clown Car, but I enjoyed being able to just be a regular parishioner.

I decided to go to Mass well after work. I’ve been making an attempt to go to my actual parish for events, even though there are two other closer parishes. Even with Austin traffic, I was able to get into the neighborhood early enough to make a stop at the nearest library branch for a few books and bit of Facebooking via library wi-fi on my phone.

When I got to Mass, I was on time and so relaxed. It was the best decision. It was also an act of humility, because I didn’t wear my ashes all day. I got to sit among friends, and the homily was actually pretty good. Fr. Pastor focused on forgiveness and invited everyone to come back on Sunday, especially people who don’t usually go to church.

— 6 —

Wednesday also marked nine years since I returned to the Catholic Church. I’d made the decision before then, but I hadn’t actually gone to church until that day during my freshman year of college. And look at me now!


Benefit of social media: evangelization through #ashtag.

That first Ash Wednesday, I heard a homily about forgiveness. This year, I heard the same. There are no coincidences.

— 7 —

So far, I haven’t told anyone what I’m giving up for Lent. I always read a reflection booklet my best friend Sarah’s mom gave me years ago. I’m not generally a fan of Henri Nouwen, but even after flirting with the Little Black Book, I’m happy that Christ Our Hope has been my constant companion. I also give up alcohol every year, even though I don’t drink much anyway.

My main Lenten discipline is a doozy, and I know I will be holier if I can accomplish my goal by Easter. These first few days are like Lent training wheels: if you got wobbly or fell already, just brush yourself off, get a lollipop and a sticker (unless you gave those up), and get to riding again. Lent is a marathon, not a sprint! Holiness takes time.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

The Annual Ash Wednesday Clown Car

No, I haven’t invented a fasting-friendly beverage of some sort. (And I swear I’m not hung up on the “no alcohol for Lent” thing!) This past Wednesday was, of course, Ash Wednesday. I was a little miffed to get to work extra early and find an Aggie car in my regular parking spot, but then I remembered that Ash Wednesday is really not the time to be getting easily frustrated, and we were expecting an Aggie priest for the first Mass of the day. He gave a delightful homily about God’s “scandalously strong” love for us despite our sins. It reminded me of the homily I heard the day I came back to the Church.

We had three more Masses that day, plus an ecumenical Christian service with Episcopalians, Lutherans, and ashes, but no communion. Mass attendance has been up in general this year, but I have honestly never seen that many people come to Mass in one day, and the ecumenical service attendance was also way up. And it’s not even a holy day of obligation! (I like to call it a holy day of non-obligation.) The long lines of people coming through the door (and shaking the priest’s hand on the way in, one by one) made it seem as though a penitent Catholic clown car had just unloaded at the curb.

My annual befuddlement over where all these people come from (and why they never come on any of the actual holy days of obligation—including every single Sunday) made me toss around some ideas with my coworkers. There must be something compelling beyond the annual communal call to repentance. Perhaps it’s the clear and visible sign that you went to church that day: black ashes in the shape of a cross, right in the middle of your forehead. You don’t have to be Catholic to receive ashes. As long as you agree that you are dust that will return to dust (or in the lesser-used form, that you will turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel) and are okay with being marked with a Christian symbol, step right up. The prospect of getting free stuff is a draw for anyone.

I drew this in some of my Christmas cards; I could totally draw it on a forehead.

The underlying problem—why people show up on Ash Wednesday but then not even every Sunday—could potentially be solved by giving out more obvious signs on other holy days. Ashes say, “I’m in the Catholic (Christian) club,” for better or for worse. We just need to give people more things that have the same effect.

My suggestions:

  • All Saints Day: Two words: Mini halos
  • Christmas: Body glitter on the forehead in the shape of baby Jesus (it might take a while to put on, but so does holiness)
  • Immaculate Conception: Stickers that say “I prayed” with a picture of the rosary (like the U.S. flag ones you get after you vote)
  • Ascension: Red face painted up arrows on the forehead (toward heaven, of course)
  • Assumption: Same arrow, but in Marian blue
  • Mary, Mother of God: Smack a blue M sticker on the back of the hand (Mama [of God] loves you, but sometimes you do dumb stuff, so she smacks you like your earthly mama would)

It’ll be the biggest draw into the Church since The Light Is On for You!

Stumbling Through Mass

Work has been epic lately. Among other things, I was on retreat with my students last weekend. That’s the first time I’ve attended Mass outside of a regular church since the Revised Roman Missal went into effect, since we use a big multi-purpose room on retreat. It wasn’t until Mass was about to begin that I realized we were a tad unprepared.

I’m at about 95% for remembering to use the new responses, possibly thanks to Hey Girl Catholic Ryan Gosling here:

I'm not huge on Ryan Gosling, but this is so clutch.

However, I can only do the Gloria if I sing it, and so far I only know the setting we’re using at work (the Black Mountain Liturgy). We tried to recite it for the solemn form of the procession for the Feast of the Presentation, and it was like a teeny train wreck to start Mass. I can’t quite swing the new Nicene Creed yet, either. Most people can’t do those yet, though, even if they go to daily Mass, as I do.

So when we had Sunday Mass, we all stumbled through the Gloria to start things off. The music staff had decided not to use the Black Mountain Liturgy, which was probably a good idea, since it’s piano-driven, and we only had two guitars for musical accompaniment. The problem is that, even if you know the new words, learning a new Mass setting takes time. They chose Matt Maher’s Mass of Communion (download mp3s and sing-along sheets for free!), which I love, but even I didn’t know it well enough to sing along properly. The spirit was willing, but the lips were weak.

We had a similar stumble-fest during the Creed. Our priest was on top of it, but he had the missal to read from. In hindsight, we should have put the words on the PowerPoint slides we’d been using for praise and worship all weekend long. By the next retreat, we should be better at the words, but there’s no guarantee.

Now that Lent has started, there’s no more Gloria to worry about. We’ll have to start relearning at Easter. A more pressing issue that I was pondering was that, even though we’re not using the Mass of Communion, even if we wanted to, it lacks a Lenten Gospel Acclamation. Since we won’t be using the Alleluia, we have to use substitute words. I did some Googling and found only one person talking about that Mass, so I asked him what he would do for Lent, and he created a whole YouTube video to answer me!

Oh, Lent. You inspire us in so many ways.

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