Today is Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, or fat Tuesday, and for those of you who are not Catholic, this is what begins the season of Lent. Despite the fact that Lent is only officially a part of Catholicism (to my knowledge anyways) it is widely celebrated as people across the country give up things, fasting and making sacrifices.
As I sat in mass today, the service to get ashes from the palms taken on Palm Sunday of the previous year, Father Jack made some really good points. He first brought up how everyone asks "what are you giving up for Lent?" and how he hates that.
The readings today had to do with how when you pray, it should not only be on the stage of life, in public, where you are in a sense, "showing off" your devotion and prayer. Prayer is a special thing to be celebrated. In the same sense, you should not make public or obvious your fasting for the season of Lent. It's a personal thing; carry on life as usual. Originally, I was going to talk about what I was giving up for Lent and why in this post, and Father Jack's homily actually discouraged me from that. I really see where he's coming from, and while it's nice to discuss things that you might give up, it really is a personal matter.
The second thing is that the whole point is not as simple as just giving something up. When I was younger, that's literally all it meant to me -- my mom would make me choose something that I liked to do (like eating dessert, or playing on the computer back when video game systems weren't really all that popular) and I had to give it up for Lent. I remember one year when my sister gave up playing on the computer for Lent and she would sit in front of a blank screen, wishing she could play.
Granted, this is hard, but Father Jack emphasized that the point of Lent is not to make us miserable. Going along with this, what's the point of fasting from something if as soon as Easter Sunday comes you are right back to what you were originally doing? What I've learned over time is that Lent is not just about giving things up -- it's about being proactive about bettering yourself as a person. Maybe the thing that you "give up" is a grudge that you're holding against a friend. Maybe you take the first step to rekindle an old friendship that fell apart a long time ago, or help out a person that you normally would judge to the extreme and stay away from. Even more importantly, Lent is the excuse to kickstart these things.... but I think that the whole point is to actually continue them once Lent is over!
A functional analogy could be presented as such: There's no point in going on a diet for a month if at the end of the month you are immediately going to binge and gorge yourself full of sweets and fatty snacks. The whole point of the diet is to help you to form better eating habits, to become more healthy, and to learn about the nutrition that it takes in order for you to stay fit and healthy.
And thus my goal for this Lenten season is to not just give some things up that maybe are difficult for me to live without (ie, desserts or a "thing" like that) but to give up something that begins to better myself as a person, and when the season of Lent draws to an end, to continue those practices.
No one is perfect, and it would be impossible for anyone to expect you to be. But the season of Lent provides the motivation to start on the betterment of yourself, both for your own personal benefit and that of those around you. Can you imagine a world where every single person worked daily to maybe forgive a bit more? Or love a bit more? Or perhaps be more patient or understanding? It's clearly a slow process -- and while it may come quickly for others, changing myself is difficult. I fall into habits of my own, just like everyone else. And some are harder to break than others.
For the first time in my life, I really want this Lenten season to mean something other than just giving something up. In addition, I want to fill the voids left by my sacrifices with things that are good for me! Perhaps I use extra time from something else to pray more, to speak with God more, and to do more good in my community. Lent is not a miserable sacrifice, and while it's good sometimes to take a step back and look at ourselves from outside the picture frame and sort of assess what we can do to grow spiritually, it also helps to add something into our lives to complement that.
So for the next six weeks, I'll continue my devotion in private, and chat personally as much as I can. Consider this a promise to you, and to myself, that by the time Easter Sunday rolls around, I'm going to be a better person. And I'm excited for the time with which I have to get there.
Lyric of the Day:
"And though this winter does nothing but storm, The joy in my heart is ablaze and it's keeping me warm, It's keeping me warm, it's keeping me warm"