by Mark Goldasich
This Lent, I’m giving up Lent.
Whoa, that didn’t come out right! What I mean to say is, I’m giving up how I’ve normally done Lent.
Since Lent is a great time for the sacrament of reconciliation, what follows is my confession (of sorts). My first failing is illustrated in the story of a priest accosted by a mugger while walking alone down a dark street.
The thief demanded his wallet. As the priest nervously opened his coat to reach for it, the mugger saw the Roman collar and realized he was about to rob a priest.
He immediately apologized and said, “Forget it, Father. Keep your money. I had no idea you were a priest.”
Relieved, the priest took out a cigarette and offered one to the robber.
“No, thank you, Father,” said the thief. “I gave up smoking for Lent.” (Adapted from Paul J. Wharton’s “Stories and Parables for Preachers and Teachers.”)
OK, my first sin is failing to see what Lent is really all about: to become a holier person. The mugger above was faithful to not smoking, but didn’t see the bigger issue of stealing as something to eliminate from his life.
Yeah, I get where he’s coming from. I’ve often focused on my Lenten penances as a sort of spiritual Olympics. I didn’t connect what I was giving up with what would help me to grow in virtue.
Staying away from salty snacks, for example, for the 40-plus days of Lent (no Lenten Sundays “off” for me, unlike weak slackers) glossed over the “why” I was fasting: to feel the hunger of some 815 million people worldwide.
Sure, I abstained from snacks — but only my stomach felt discomfort, not my heart or my mind. In other words, my hunger for food didn’t induce a corresponding hunger for justice for the poor.
Now, here’s a story detailing my second failing. It concerns a principal who asked her staff to write out resolutions on how to be better teachers.
The teachers agreed, the resolutions were posted on the staff bulletin board and all gathered around to read them. One of the young teachers suddenly went ballistic.
“She didn’t put up my resolution. It was one of the first ones handed in!” the teacher said. “She doesn’t care about me. That just shows what it’s really like around here.” And on and on he ranted.
The principal heard this and was mortified. Rummaging through the pile of papers on her desk, she found the errant resolution buried there. She immediately went up to the bulletin board and posted it. The resolution read: “I resolve not to let little things upset me anymore.” (Also adapted from Wharton’s book.)
Yes, this story is me, too. I often don’t follow through on my Lenten resolutions because I want to do way too much.
For example, I’ll be reading something (like this issue of The Leaven) and see a great idea. So, I add that to my already bloated list. Even with 26 hours in a day, I could never do everything there.
When failure strikes, I throw in the towel and say, “If I can’t do it all perfectly, then I ain’t doin’ nothin’!” And another unsuccessful Lent goes into the books.
So, that’s why I’m giving up my usual way of doing Lent. Instead, I’m concentrating on doing a lot less: less complaining, less TV, less snacking, less computer game time, less procrastinating, less shopping and less fruitless yakking.
This issue is chock-full of wonderful Lenten ideas.
I’d recommend, though, that you keep your Lent as simple as possible. Don’t tackle more than you can manage. And you might even test drive a resolution in these days before Ash Wednesday, just to see if it’s really what you or your family need.
I suspect that my Lent of doing less this year is going to give me a lot more than I imagine.