A man asks his son what he is giving up for Lent. His son replies, “television.” The father is amazed by this selfless act and says to his son, “That’s truly amazing. But what will you do with all your free time.” His son answers, “Probably watch movies on my computer.”
Last night, after Ash Wednesday service, I heard a little girl ask her mother most emphatically, “Now can I have chocolate?!” The mother quickly explained that it was only day 1 of Lent and that they had 39 more days to go before she could have chocolate. The little girl’s face looked like it would crumble to tears any minute until I heard her mother remind her, “Remember, you’re doing it for Jesus.”
What a beautiful witness. You could see the struggle the little girl was going through. But clearly, she thought Jesus was worth it. I was reminded of the verse from I Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” When we are little, little sacrifices are as big as the moon to us and Lent can seem to last a lifetime. But are we still thinking like a child? Have our Lenten sacrifices grown as we have? Are our eyes fixed on Easter or are we using the time to grow?
In January, I attended an Oblate Novice retreat at St. Meinrad. One of the joys of my weekend was sitting next to and getting to know a fellow Novice named Steven. Steven lives in Ohio and so his trek to get there was much longer than mine. We visited quite a bit between session, on walks to church and back and during meals. Our conversation turned, as it always does for me, to books. Steven was currently reading The Spirituality of Fasting by Charles Murphy. I was immediately intrigued. Fasting was something I had only brushed the surface of. On Steven’s recommendation, I ordered the book as soon as I returned home.
Over the next several weeks, I would read from The Rule of St. Benedict and then from The Spirituality of Fasting. The two seemed to fit together perfectly. I always saw fasting only as my sacrifice to God. But the book defined it as “an act of humility before God, a penitential expression of our need for conversion from sin and selfishness”. I realized that in order to “conquer” a lot of the vices I struggle with, I needed to go much deeper.
On Relevant Radio this morning, Father Sam Martin likened the season of Lent to preparing a field for planting in the Springtime. Think of years past, when this meant walking the fields, removing rocks and other debris and pulling up weeds…all by hand. Imagine the physical struggle each of the acts…that’s have our Lent should feel. We should struggle with our Lenten sacrifices and as Fr. Martin put it, “No coasting!”
As I’m writing this, I remembered a time, growing up on the Westside of Evansville (shout out to all my Westside friends), when I was riding my bike down a particularly steep hill. At the bottom, the road turned sharply to right, so you had to maintain great control over your bike in order not to crash. I watched my older brothers go down the hill with no problem but when it was my turn, things went decidedly wrong.
Instead of “riding the brake” as one of my brothers told me to do, I decided to enjoy the feeling of flying and coast down the hill. I figured I could apply my brakes at the bottom and then rub it in that I went down the hill much faster than they had. Oh…the stupidity of the young…me being the young of course. I did fly down that hill. I did hit my brake at the bottom. I did fly over my handlebars and I did as much damage to my bike as I did my body. And you know what I discovered? My brothers weren’t nearly as dumb as they looked. (Sorry, the little sister in me still must get the jabs in when I can.) I also discovered that my brothers’ sympathy only went so far, and it was a long push getting my wrecked bike back up that hill and back home again.
But as I think back on it now and think of Fr. Martin saying, “No coasting,” another thought occurred to me: You can only coast downhill. Going uphill is work. It’s hard work. Working on those demons that pull at me daily is hard work. Fasting, prayer, and alms giving should be hard work. Because if they aren’t, what are we truly sacrificing?
Want to grow this Lenten season? Don’t coast. Pedal hard all the way…Easter Sunday. Then look back down the hill and see how far you have come. Oh, and while you’re there, be sure to enjoy the view from the top.
“Lent is the right time to make room for the Word of God. It is the time to turn off the television and open the Bible. It is the time to disconnect from your cell phone and connect to the Gospel,” -Pope Francis, 2020
**Shout out to that handsome guy in the pic…if you don’t already know, it’s my son, Derek.