Giving Up on Giving Up

Last Wednesday a local tv station aired a short piece on Ash Wednesday. After mentioning that the day initiates the season of Lent, she asked four people at a suburban church what they were giving up for Lent. The answers were beer and pretzels, chocolate, Mallomars, and potato chips. Perhaps if the reporter had asked, What are you doing for Lent?”, she would have given people the opportunity to respond differently.

Chocolate candies. Collection of beautiful Belgian truffles isol

When I was a kid, I gave up chocolate. I gave it up because I liked chocolate. I really liked it. And I liked going to the candy store after school with my friends to buy it. At that time, it was an effort to give it up. I moved on from that at some point and gave up things like bread, sweets, all desserts and wine on week nights (Weekends were ok; I’m no saint). Like many others, I seemed to view Lent as a 40 day exercise in minor deprivation which would hopefully result in weight loss.

Then there was a shift in the message from the Church and the pulpit about Lent. Forget the giving up, the negative mindset associated with Lent. The Church sent out a strong message to re-branded Lent into a pro-active season. It would always remain a time of reflection and repentance and parishes would offer opportunities for doing so as a community, but the focus was squarely on action. Do something. Got to an extra mass once in awhile, read the Bible, volunteer, help those in need. Do something.

To embrace that message, for me, meant not reverting to a food-based Lent. To do so would be to not fully commit to a mature approach to Lent. St. Paul’s message to the Corinthians came to mind: ” When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, think as a child, reason as a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 11). It was time to put away a childish approach to Lent.

This year has been designated as the Holy Year of Mercy by the Pope Francis. He recently said that Lent is a good time “to train ourselves to be more sensitive and merciful to others.” Being merciful, being kind, being loving, being considerate, being patient when your impulses push you to act otherwise takes a heck of a lot more self control than putting down the Mallomars.

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