A few weeks ago I was on staff at a Catholic summer camp, attended by teens from all over the diocese. They arrived not knowing each other and left as total BFFs, swearing to keep in touch, hold annual reunions and be in each other’s weddings.
Something about sleeping on bunk beds and swatting mosquitos really brings a group together.
The tears that flow when they all leave on Friday are inevitable, so I’ve nick-named the day #FeelingsFriday and have explained to new staff that there’s no point in fighting it. Just pass out extra tissues and remind the kids to check under their beds for dirty socks, because we are NOT mailing those home.
There was one camper, Kathryn, who especially stood out on Feelings Friday. She had an unusual talent, and I complimented her, to try to bring some levity to this somber day. “Kathryn, you look really good when you cry. Like, your face isn’t splotchy or anything. Do you ever ugly cry?”
With tears streaming down her cheeks, Kathryn delicately sniffled and replied, “Thanks. I practice looking good while I cry in front of the mirror. I only ugly cry when no one’s around.”
That was not the reply I expected. Teen girls are strange, y’all.
Still, Kathryn might be on to something. Not that I suggest crying in front of a mirror to perfect your look, however, there is a value in the practice. It’s the practice of sacrifice and suffering, to be precise.
Advent and Lent are two seasons that encourage us to embrace penance and sacrifice comfort to unite ourselves with the sufferings of Christ. However, we’ve begun that long stretch of ordinary time that allows us to get comfortable. No readings exhorting us to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, no rice boxes to remind us of the plight of the poor.
Yet we are always tasked with imitating Christ, not just during the “purple seasons”, and this is where I think Kathryn has a point.
Practice. We have to practice. Advent and Lent can suggest more intense experiences of penance, but our struggle to be Christ-like in all we say and do is a year-round commitment.
So what would be the spiritual equivalent to Kathryn’s routine? Find opportunities to practice spiritual disciplines right now, in the lazy months of summer, when it’s so tempting to just sleep in and spend the extra daylight by the water. A few things I’ve seen teens in my youth group do is make the commitment to attend daily Mass when they don’t have to go to school, or use their free time to read a saint’s biography.
“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” (Hebrews 12:5) always stops me in my tracks and reminds me that holiness is a struggle, indeed. A struggle that can’t just be taken up with the seasons. Prayer, fasting and love for the poor is how we combat temptation. And we can practice anytime and anywhere.