Friday, February 24, 2012

Revenge of the Lent Police

I am sorry ma'm,
I am going to have to cite you
for eating two cookies.
The thing most talked about among people as we begin Lent is the perennial question, "What are you going to give up?"

When I was young, my mother called me "The Lent Police" because I not only kept track of my own business during Lent but I also kept tabs on my siblings. I would regularly yell things like, "Mom, David is eating a cookie and it's Lent!" I was a real pain in the bum. I am surprised they still speak to me.

After my reversion to the faith, I found myself giving up things as if I was part of an aestheticism marathon, (and I planned to be first). One long and difficult Lent I gave up coffee. I was traveling in Latin America so this was a terrible idea, not only because the coffee is great, but refusing coffee from a Latino is a serious faux pas in that culture - the equivalent of dumping a bucket of dirty dishwater on their head. On top of that, I was a huge grump and suffered from splitting headaches for most of the trip. Of course, I no longer drink coffee so that is nice, but that horrendous experiment in aestheticism was probably something better done as a New Year's Resolution, rather than a Lenten practice.

What do I mean by this?

Coffee, you no longer allure me.
Really. I swear.
Lenten penances are not meant to be efforts at self-improvement or attempts to win an aestheticism race. Instead, during Lent we are called to choose acts of mortification that show our love for God. It's not so much in what we do, as the motivation behind it. I gave up coffee because I knew I was addicted and I don't like to be addicted to things. It was as simple as that. I did not give up coffee because I knew that it would please God. I did not give up coffee because it would create space in my life for God. I gave up coffee because I wanted to. 

Of course, I am not saying that we should not give up things for Lent. 

One time at a Mass I actually heard a priest refer to fasting and negative penances, such as giving up something for Lent, as an outdated practice. His intention was good, he wanted to emphasize that positive practices of penance are just as important as negative, but it does not have to be either or. We can do both.

So this Lent, I decided to take some inspiration from the founder of the Pauline Family, Blessed James Alberione. Bl. James always emphasized that growth in the spiritual life must involve growth toward Jesus in the mind, will and heart. He once said, "Think of grafting yourself to Christ the Master. Graft to Christ your head, your heart, your mind, your activities, all your day."

Ok, so inspired by the Maestro, I divided possible things that I can do for Lent into these categories: Mind, Will, Heart. And then I asked the most important question - which things will bring me closer to God, and create more space in my life?

Here are some possible ideas if you are not sure what I mean:

Mind: Make the time to read something spiritual that you have been meaning to get to. Or try to think less negatively during the day.

Will: Give up something or regulate something in your life that keeps you from living prayerfully. Maybe you drive like a maniac, cuss and show people a finger that should never be unaccompanied. Stop driving like that for Lent, (and maybe it will stick!)

Heart: For me, this is a question of what you love. Lift your heart to God, whether it is through more prayer,  or adding a rosary into your daily commute. Basically, do anything that shows God that He is the king of your heart. Write a love letter to our Creator through something you choose to do during Lent.

I have found that these kinds of practices are more difficult. I am not going to get to the end of Lent without falling in my resolutions, that is for sure. But I think I will be closer to God than if I had chosen a list of practices based on what I felt like doing.

May you all have a blessed Lent!


Liz Walkowiak said...

Thank you Theresa! That was excellent and thought provoking. I am going to have Jason, my boyfriend, read this too. He is becoming a Catholic this Easter. He will be baptized and confirmed on Easter Vigil. I am his sponsor. Keep us in your prayers!

tagnes said...

Wow, that is fantastic news Liz! I am so happy for you and for him. I went through RCIA to be confirmed so I have a special place in my heart for everyone who goes through that very special and sacred process. I will definitely keep you both in my prayers.

Lisa said...

Great article Theresa....I had a similiar inspiration trying to declutter my mind by not reading and or watching anything political and on my 30 minute drive home from work not turning or the radio or any type of music.........I want to hear God.....and I can't if my mind is full of stuff!

richard said...

Good advice.

Fr Levi said...

Intentions matter. May God be with you on your Lenten journey.

Nayhee said...

This is really good. Unfortunately, it's ruined everything for me. And here I thought I'd been doing such a good job with my caffeine abstinence! :)
Good things to think about, I will be saving it to re-read.