Monday, February 15, 2010

What Does Your Hairshirt Look Like?

It was 1:00 AM. I was toasty. And Cozy. I was all set for bed. AHHH! The snow howled outside the door, the dogs were asleep in their spot under the dining room table. Even our resident mouse had not scritched or scratched all night (much like the Night Before Christmas Poem!) Then- the thought- a thought that felt like ice cold hands on a warm belly. The cow was never fed tonight. The cow is pregnant. She has to eat. The kids are all in bed.Travis is not home. I must feed her. I have to step into snow above my knees and bare my face to subfreezing temperatures. (It was about 5 degrees that night). I will walk to the barn, brave ravenous roosters and untie dusty hay bales in my pre-bed, showered- fresh state.I did what had to be done. In the process I managed to slip on the ice, get scared to death by a hiding rooster that balked and pounced on my shoulders just as I picked up the hay bale, and feed a very hungry and thankful cow.

I don't know why, but as I was in the middle of feeding Penny, I was thinking about the hair shirts that pious people have worn throughout the centuries. It is a practice that has mostly been done away with, but I did read that some Carmelite orders wear hair shirts to this day. A hair shirt (which is a rough garment made out of goat hair) is worn for penance. Father John Corapi once talked about hair shirts in a very humorous way. He said: "We don't need no hair shirts anymore. You may be sitting right next to your hair shirt. you may be married to your hair shirt...."

All humor set aside, Father Corapi was making the point that what we live with on a daily basis can be our "hair shirt" or our penance. A wise priest once told my mother that the best penance is to live what you have cheerfully (something to that effect). When I had to feed the cow that night, I was having what I now call a "hair shirt" moment. We may not be in a state of constant suffering such as the dear souls in Haiti right now, but we have moments, hours, or days-perhaps even months or years-when we suffer. The suffering may come in the form of an aggravation/annoyance(such as having to feed the cow!), or it may be something much more serious that leaves us feeling stripped and bereaved.

With Lent quickly approaching, I challenge you to 'dig out' your hair shirts. I challenge you to take all the aggravations, unkind words, thoughtless deeds, physical pain, whatever it may be that you are enduring right now and give it to God... "Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved" (Psalm 55:22)