by Father Mark Goldasich
Reading a commentary on the Ash Wednesday readings shouldn’t make you sarcastic, but I couldn’t help myself. My gut reaction to the beginning of a piece I recently saw was: Well, there’s a cheery thought! Makes me want to go right out there and do something this Lent.
The short commentary was found in St. Anthony Messenger Press’ “Weekday Homily Helps.” Jeanne Hunt, its writer, said that Lent “begins with a flourish of high hopes,” but there is “hardly ever a grand and triumphant ending.” And that’s what triggered my sarcasm. If that’s the case, I reasoned, then why even try? If we’re doomed to fail from the start, why waste the time?
It’s lucky that I kept reading Hunt’s article, though, because her main point deserves attention: Lent is definitely worth the effort, she noted, but only if we come to understand that it is “our Father who leads our Lenten song.” In other words, part of the discipline of Lent is letting God choose the song we sing. Instead of wanting to control what we think we should do during Lent, we need to relinquish that control and be willing to follow where God wants to lead us.
OK, as much as I hate to admit it— and as much as this goes against the grain of how I usually celebrate Lent — Hunt is right. I normally start off this season with an extensive list of all the changes I intend to make during these 40 days: what I’m giving up, the good deeds I intend to do, the spiritual reading I’ll pursue, etc., etc. Sadly, these wonderful resolutions don’t seem to last much longer than the ashes on my forehead. Before I know it, I’m back to my old habits and more frustrated than ever. Could it be that this happens because I don’t give God the chance to lead, to direct me to what he feels I should be doing?
Hunt’s words have challenged me and stuck with me. This year, I’m shaking things up and I’m looking to the Fridays of Lent to get me started.
Why Fridays? Well, with their obligation to abstain from meat, Lenten Fridays force me to surrender control and to become aware. I’m amazed at how much of my eating is “mindless.”
No kidding, the first couple of weeks in Lent I even put a Post-it note on the dashboard of my car to remind me that it’s Friday. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself in the drive-thru lane of a fast-food joint on a Friday in Lent, furiously scanning the menu for non-meat items.
The simple restriction from consuming meat makes me step back and eat more creatively, consume less, and focus on — and actually taste — the food I’m taking into my body. And maybe that’s the secret to making a change that lasts beyond Lent. Surrendering control of what we eat on just one day can be a first step to how all of Lent— and ultimately all of our life — should be: Let God lead.
That’s probably why the church encourages us to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year. Abstinence is meant to remind us of our continual need for penance, conversion, and charity. I’m going to embrace Fridays this Lent as a special call from God to remember, repent, be aware, do something positive, and surrender control.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that even after writing this article, I still did compile an extensive list of what I want to do this Lent in the areas of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. But I am trying to see all of these good intentions as individual pieces of music. Although they’re all in my repertoire, I’m praying for the grace to let God, the conductor, choose and lead which Lenten song I’ll play.