I’m not ready for Lent. Not that I ever am, but this year particularly I am well aware that I’m going to fail at praying, fasting and almsgiving, so I’m wondering why I should even try.
The answer, of course, is that these 40 days are a way to renew my baptismal commitment, to convert my heart and mind as a follower of Christ. The problem is that I’m having difficulty rejecting Satan and all his works and his empty promises, because the material world is just so much more alluring than the austere self-sacrifice to which I am called by baptism. I haven’t yet gotten to the point of cheerful giving, and often wonder whether I ever will. And let’s not get started on whether I believe in God the Father Almighty and all the other tenets of our faith. Intellectually I’ve got a good grasp on them, but sometimes my heart doesn’t follow my head, and when I look at all the darkness in the world doubt creeps in about the existence of the Creator who we say holds us in the palm of his hand but yet allows such cruelty. Again, I can give intellectual counter-arguments about why I believe Church teaching, but oh, how uncertain at times is my heart!
I have taken one positive step for Lent at which I think I have a chance of being successful. The University of Notre Dame is offering an online course on The Saint John’s Bible. There will be six units, one a week, starting on Ash Wednesday. This is something I can do at my convenience – at 2 a.m., if I so choose (and very likely will). To add to the encouragement, a friend also will be taking the course. It’s always fun to be able to talk about what I’m learning, so I’m actually looking forward to this Lenten prayer.
For fasting this year I’m going to take a tip from Pope Francis, who a couple of years ago suggested that for Lent we should “leave behind old habits and the lazy addition to the evil that deceives and ensnares us.” One of my worst habits is impatience. I always have too much to do and am in a hurry to do it, so for Lent I am going to stop the little time-wasters such as Facebook and computer games. Work requires me to check Facebook a couple of times a day, but I should be able to keep it to under an hour total. And as addictive as computer games are, I’m going to cut them out cold turkey, because even when I win it adds only illusory and fleeting joy.
Almsgiving is going to be a challenge. My budget is tight, and there are few corners left to cut. My two indulgences are lunch out once a week, and good chocolate. Those together total about $60 a month, and the selfish part of me asks why I should give up my pleasures when they bring me pleasure but in the greater scheme are such a paltry amount. If I were to donate the sum after six weeks to Catholic Relief Services Rice Bowl, for example, it would be $90. What good is $90? But then I think back to when I was out of a job, and at that time $90 would have paid my utilities, bought groceries for a month, made a dent in my rent.
“Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty,” Pope Francis said in his 2014 Lenten message. “Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”
So that is my Lenten plan for fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Saying it publicly means I have a better chance at sticking to it. Check back in six weeks at Easter, when the results will be in.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. She can be reached at email@example.com.