Then Jesus said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
The weather outside is indeed frightful, but I’m reminded as I watch the news that for me, it is only uncomfortable a few times a day. I venture out to feed our birds in the morning, while it is mostly dark and again around noon, when most of what I put out earlier has been eaten. I bundle up, gasp as the cold air hits me in the face, and then proceed to take care of business. I’m only outside a short time, and I have to admit, other than the initial cold blast, I’m so busy being amused by the birds following my bucket of feed, that I hardly notice the cold.
What I do notice, however, is how warm the house is when I come back inside. Most days, I have to shed all my extra layers, even the sweatshirt I put on as soon as I get out of bed and turn the heat down a few notches until my body acclimates and tells me the room is cool again. Then it usually goes back up to a comfortable 68 degrees.
The past few days, the news has been mostly about the weather or weather related issues, such as bursting water pipes, slide offs and school cancelations. But the biggest story has been about our neighbors south of us in Oklahoma and Texas. Now many of you know that I’m from Oklahoma, but our family, for the most part, lives in the northeast part, not far from Tulsa. They are used to cold temps and snow. But further south, it’s another story. Days of bitter temps and lack of supplies have devastated thousands and crews are working desperately to restore power. Grocery store shelves are nearly bare, and lines stretch around the blocks for the few remaining items…some people standing in those freezing temps for hours, to find nothing left to buy when it’s finally their turn.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Like I said, it’s been all over the media. The need is so critical that local energy companies are urging customers to decrease their thermostats to between 60-65 degrees during the day and even lower at night or when no one is home.
I did so yesterday. And it didn’t take long to notice the difference. My comfortable 68 degrees left and I added another layer of clothes. Was I warm enough? Definitely. But what if I lowered it down another 10? Or 20 degrees? What if I had no heat at all?
I was already praying for the people in the south, but my prayers definitely increased every time I thought about being cold. I checked in one of the local news stories on Facebook to see what other people were saying or experiencing by turning down their thermostats. I should have known better.
A lot people were happy to have some way to contribute. Some complained but for the most part, the comments weren’t too bad. Then I hit on a guy who did a five minute rant on the “greed of the industry” and how “we shouldn’t have to clean up their mistakes” and a few things I wouldn’t write here, let alone say. He’s biggest complaint was “invasion of his rights.” Hmm…there’s a familiar line.
“They can’t make me wear a facemask.”
The bottom line was…this isn’t our problem. Really? Our brothers and sisters are suffering, and it isn’t our problem?
This morning, as most mornings, I watched a live streamed Mass from St. Meinrad. Fr. Mateo was giving the homily and he told the story of the Freedom Riders, a group of non-violent civil rights activists, who boarded buses in the South, to desegregate them. One of the founders, James Farmer, Jr., told the story of a jail in Jackson, Mississippi, that was full of rioters, who sang songs to keep their spirits up. To intimidate them, the guards remove the thin, straw mattresses from their cells. This was their last comfort in their cold concrete and metal cells. At first, it works, and the rioters are silent. Then one young man stands and preaches to the others. He tells them, “It’s not your mattress. It’s your soul that they are after.” Another prisoner calls to the guards and tells them, “Take my mattress. I will keep my soul.” And then Fr. Mateo asks, “What is my mattress? It’s a little luxury. It’s a personal or political bias. It’s a stubborn resentment. It’s an occasional vice. It’s the very last thing that I would ever give up for Lent. It is anything that I would cling to, instead of the cross.”
As I thought about the man on Facebook, and countless others that have protested over the past year of having their rights trampled, I looked around at the comfort of my room, even at 60 degrees. What is my mattress? What is God asking of me. What is so precious to me that I didn’t give it up for Lent?
For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?
Today, as we move forward through the Lenten season, let’s not be satisfied with the things that came easy to give up. Let us as God to give us the grace to desire to give up what He would ask of us.
Prompt our actions with your inspiration, we pray, O Lord, and further them with your constant help, that all we do may always begin from you and by you, be brought to completion.
(Daily Roman Missal, Collect from today)