This is a true story.
Michael had a younger brother named Roy, who was a medical doctor. On the day of Roy’s 40th birthday, his wife, Rachel, called Michael with an urgent plea. This is a transcript of their conversation.
Rachel: Mike, you must speak to Roy. He is in such a state of depression I don’t know what to do with him.
Michael: My little brother is depressed? Why? Don’t tell me it’s because today is his milestone 40th birthday. Is the doctor in our family really having a mid-life crisis?
Rachel: No. Well, maybe. Well, yes, in a way, I guess. He was not in the best of moods about the aging process when he left for work this morning. But when he returned from making his hospital rounds he was simply inconsolable because of what happened to him.
Michael: What happened?
Rachel: The strangest thing. I’m sure it would not have affected him so badly if it had occurred on any day other than the very day he turned 40 years old.
Michael: What? What happened to him?
Rachel: While he was visiting his patients at ALU General, he noticed that one woman kept gazing at his mouth. You know how prim and proper he is about his appearance. At first he thought he may have had some crumbs caught in his mustache or goatee. He swiped his facial hairs several times but she kept gawking anyway. So he finally asked her what she was staring at. She said, “Doctor, you have such beautifully white teeth, I just have to ask. Where did you get them?” Before he could quip, “from my mother,” the lady poured salt into his open wound. “If you would be so kind, could you give me the name of your dentist so that when my time comes I can have my dentures made there too?”
Michael: What? Are you serious? Who in the world asks questions like that? Was he working on the psyche ward or something?
Are we Catholics settling for a denture Lent? Are we taking a real bite out of sin or swallowing soft Friday fish as enough of an effort toward change? Are we ingesting the nourishment available in the graces of regularly confessing or are we avoiding reconciliation by clenching tightly onto the fleeting pleasures of immoral habits? Do we prefer an artificial grin that glimmers in the wide eyes and the wide ways of the world or can we sport the hard enamel of the gospel’s narrow gate that illuminates the true path to everlasting life?
By mid-April we will be approaching the final days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that are supposed to prepare us for the celebration of Easter. Have we been sinking any real teeth into penance and repentance or have we settled for a Dentu-Grip, temporary adhesive that only holds on to an authentic relationship with Jesus long enough to disguise a disingenuous Judas kiss?
For the rest of Lent and the remaining days of April, let’s place our toothbrush in a different and more inconvenient location in the bathroom. Then, as we struggle to retrieve it to brush our teeth, let’s look in the mirror and promise to take on the struggle to cleanse our souls of the major temptations that prevent us from achieving a dazzling smile about the Lord’s rising from the tomb. In this daily routine we can unite our spirit-filled taste for salvation with Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection to new life.
Father Pagliari's monthly Holy Homework column can be found at https://www.cny.org.
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