'What are you DOING for Lent?'
“What are you DOING for Lent??”
In a much earlier time in my life, the Mondays and Tuesdays before Ash Wednesday were filled with that question. In the mid-1950s most everyone was asking everybody what they planned to give up for their Lenten penance.
Gum, candy in general, and chocolate in particular, were traditional favorites. But you never knew. There were those giving up listening to the radio. The real stalwarts announced they were giving up television. And there was always at least one classmate who said he was giving up homework. It was fun, but it got us focused on the season that would start with receiving ashes on Wednesday.
“Giving up” fell into disuse after awhile. As I recall, they were saying that rather than just avoiding something, you should do something positive. Admirable sentiment.
Over the course of the years, we have come to appreciate both sentiments as important for Lent: “Giving up” and “Doing.”
Favorite scents
There is something incredibly loving about “giving up.” It is not just self-discipline. It is self-sacrifice that deepens our capacity to be more aware of God and more aware of each other in our lives. It fits in with the traditional penances of fasting and abstinence. It's good for the soul — healthy atonement for sin — to put aside something we enjoy as we use the Lenten season to prepare for Holy Week and the joy of Easter. But it also helps to create a greater “space” in our hearts for loving God and for serving others.
So let me ask you: “What are you DOING for Lent this year?” Try to look for something, and not by any means just a bad habit that you and I should be giving up anyway. Look for something you enjoy and offer it up. Something that will be waiting for you when Easter week comes.
One of the pleasures I enjoy in my life is to use some favorite scents — men's cologne. Throughout the year I “fast” from “aftershave” three days a week for special intentions — one day for the needs of the Diocese of Pittsburgh; one day for the needs of my former Diocese of Green Bay; and one day for priestly vocations. During Lent, I “fast” from these scents entirely. And while such a sacrifice may put a smile on your face, for me it is still rather hard. But after several years of this “fasting” I do feel the joy of “giving up” because I do it out of love for God and out of love for you, the people whom I serve.
Look around in your life to see what sacrifice would be hard. The 40-day loss will make you more thoughtful, more loving, more selfless — that glass of wine, the favorite daily television show, the fast-food visits, the mystery books, texting and Facebook, evening drives, clothes shopping, listening to radio call-in shows and even wearing aftershave or cologne — whatever you can give up that will be there waiting for you at the end of Lent.
Everything old is new again. We know that there are so many good Lenten traditions that we can bring back into our lives if we have lost sight of them.
There are the traditional days of fast and abstinence that the church asks us to keep. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence — meatless, and two meals that together do not equal one modest main meal, liquids but no eating between meals. Fridays of Lent are meatless. Outside of those days, we are invited to add our own twists. Some people make every Lenten Wednesday a day of fast and abstinence; others who have maintained Friday as a day of abstinence throughout the year add fasting to their Friday Lenten penance.
Pray the Stations of the Cross. Use Lent to take part in this wonderful liturgical prayer. Just check with your local parish to find the when and where for the stations. As an aside, I will be joining some of you for Stations of the Cross this holy season.
The perfect time
People often ask me how to make prayer a fixed part of their lives. My answer? Make prayer a fixed part of your life. What I mean is that we have to set aside a good time for prayer in our daily schedule. Lent is the perfect time to begin again or to pray more. Take a short time every day that works in your schedule and pray — praying what's in your heart and on your mind, and connecting with God with traditional prayers in a good Catholic prayer book.
Speaking of good Catholic prayer books, Lent is also a great time for Lectio Divina — divine reading. Visit a Catholic bookstore. Find a few good books and read them for Lent.
There's always confession, and Lent is the perfect time for getting back to the sacrament. Please mark your calendar for Wednesday evening, March 21, from 6 to 9 p.m., when all our parishes will offer confession in our “The Light is On for You!” Check with your parish, or a convenient neighborhood parish, for other times for the sacrament. You'll never regret that visit.
Please remember charitable works as well — always part of a traditional Lent well observed. Check local food pantries and with Catholic Charities for particular needs. And if you are in Downtown Pittsburgh, don't forget the Red Door next to the Pastoral Center. Be there for Lent. Don't forget our foreign mission in Chimbote, Peru.
Look in your parish bulletin and the Pittsburgh Catholic every week. You will find all kinds of Lenten observances, programs, liturgies and devotions offered throughout the Church of Pittsburgh. Pick one and give it a try.
And then there is daily Mass. The best inclusion for Lent by far.
Make this Lent special. Pick out some good things to do. Make Lent a real part of your faith-filled growth. Then you'll have a good answer when someone comes up and asks you, “What are you DOING for Lent?”