By Richard Watkins
Ash Wednesday, which fell on March 6 this year, marked the beginning of the Lenten season. And as it was approaching, I was reminded of when I was a kid how each year I had to make the hard decision to give up something…gum. Actually, it wasn’t hard at all. It was a fairly easy “give up” for me as I really didn’t chew gum all that often. At the most, I would be missing out on maybe seven or eight gum chewing opportunities over the course of a month and a half!
In my twenties, I started shifting away from giving up physical things to trying to give up behaviors or actions such as not using profanity. Unfortunately, I usually broke those attempts upon my first or second dealing with people at work on that particular Ash Wednesday morning.
As I reached my thirties, my standard line was that for Lent, I was giving up hope, which always got a laugh.
Now that I’m in my forties, having become more spiritually aware and mature, I have realized the true intent of Lent and the Lenten season. Therefore, I have given up on giving up … and given in on giving in.
It may surprise you (as it did me at the time) to learn that the tradition of giving up something for Lent (e.g. candy, coffee, fast food, etc.) isn’t something required by the Catholic Church. It is more a penitential act practiced by Catholics for their sins committed during the previous liturgical year. One could look at it as a self-imposed penance. As for the Church itself, aside from the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and the abstinence of meat each Friday of Lent, there are no other obligations for Catholics to give up something (unless, of course, it is something directly sinful which should be given up regardless).
Instead, Catholics are asked to give in to something. To give in to God and the redemption of life through the cross. Also to give in to prayer and to the reading of Scripture; to give in to fasting and to give in to the offering of alms. Catholics are also asked to give in to God by renewing their Baptismal commitment and to reconcile themselves with Him which was made possible by Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
It is important for Catholics to engage in “spiritual self-discipline” leading up to Easter. The resurrection is considered the greatest holy day of the Christian year (even more holy than Christmas, which I think you can all agree is a pretty big one). Therefore, it is appropriate to prepare for such a holy day by engaging in such disciplines just as Christ spent 40 days in spiritual discipline and fasting before entering into his public ministry.
And while giving up that Triple Venti, Half Sweet, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato with double whip and sprinkles or that Double Bacon, Mushroom, Swiss between two deep fried Twinkies Burger for the 40 days during Lent might not be a bad thing for your physical health, it isn’t obligatory for…no, scratch that. Those should be obligatory give ups. Lent or no Lent.