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Column: Can we ever get enough of Lent?

by Father Mark Goldasich

The older I get, the simpler my Lents become.

In my younger days, I’d spend days and days making exhaustive lists of all that I intended to do to make Lent a holy time. I’d rarely get to most of those things, as good and necessary as they were for me. And I’d end up feeling frustrated because of that.

Now, however, with Ash Wednesday looming, I know exactly what I want to say to these upcoming 40 days: Enough, already!

Last October, Michael Smerconish of The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a column about John Bogle, founder and former CEO of the Vanguard Group, Inc. Bogle tells of a conversation between writers Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller, who were attending a party at a billionaire’s home. Vonnegut points to the host and asks how Heller feels, knowing that the billionaire probably made more money in one day than Heller’s novel “Catch 22” ever did.

Heller responds, “Yes, but I have something he will never have: Enough.” (Found in The Kansas City Star on Oct. 10, 2008)

That statement got me thinking and looking at my life. Quite frankly, I was astounded by what I saw: Not only did I have enough, I had way more than enough.

Probably most of us can say the same thing. Just last Sunday, for instance, one of my parishioners approached me with a sheepish grin and said, “I think I need to go to confession. I just spent all day yesterday cleaning out one of my closets. I loaded up two bags full of clothes that I don’t need or wear… and my closet is still full!”

I can relate. My excess, though, is not clothes, but books, magazines, office supplies, exercise equipment, CDs, and electronic gadgets. That massive material backlog has given me my simple Lenten resolution: to spend this holy season becoming aware of exactly how much I possess, thanking God for that “more than enough,” and then — each Friday — marching my surplus goods out the door.

Honestly, some of my treasures deserve to head right into the trash, but those items are in the minority. Most of my excess is still very usable. Some of my Lent will be spent online, trying to match what I have to donate with organizations that can best use them.

I’m taking as my inspiration some generous Kansas Citians featured in The Star on Valentine’s Day. In a nutshell, a number of individuals and families decided to “show some love to others” on Feb. 14 by forming a “brown-bag brigade” and taking food and supplies to the homeless on Kansas City’s streets. Some made simple PB&J sandwiches; others, more elaborate goodie bags of bottled water, turkey sandwiches, apples, granola bars and Hershey’s Kisses. A few even took along unused clothing to pass out to the needy.

In these challenging economic times, finding more money to donate might be beyond what many can realistically do. Looking around, though (like the brown-bag brigade did above), at what already surrounds us —items that we do not use or need — and making a sincere effort to get those items to where they will do the most good can be an excellent way to keep Lent.

I know this will not be easy for me. Plowing through piles of possessions, no matter how noble the cause, is dirty, tedious work. It’s easy for me to become overwhelmed and return to doing something more comfortable and enjoyable (like reading or playing video games). But that attitude is precisely what got me into the mess I’m in today. And Lent is all about confronting such attitudes and then changing them, with God’s grace.

That’s why I’ll be sure to pray before each of my “treasure tossing” sessions. And I’ll be asking God not only for perseverance, but also that I never feel I have enough boxes and bags to collect and distribute all my overflowing blessings.

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Fr. Mark Goldasich

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