Lent was a foreign concept to me growing up in a non-catholic fundamental evangelical home. We were free from “rituals” but boy did we live by the “law”. When I was in grade school our neighbors across Everett Street were Catholics and the first time I remember Lent being mentioned was the mom had given up chocolate for Lent.
“Boy”, I thought, “Is that all there is to Lent? Giving up chocolate makes God happy?”
I would happily give up chocolate for 6 weeks that seemed like an easy sacrifice compared to sitting in Sunday Evening Service and missing every episode of The Wonderful World of Disney..which my Catholic friends got to watch each week.
My next encounter with Lent was working at a Lutheran Nursing Home while I was attending college in Minnesota. One evening I went to help Carmen, who happened to be one of the few Catholics at the home, get ready for bed.
“Carmen, you have a smudge right here between your eyes,” I said “Here I’ll get that for you.”
As I took a washcloth to clean her forehead, I received a thorough tongue-lashing concerning the sacred ritual of Ash Wednesday. Needless to say, I never question black smudges this time of year.
Several years ago I came to the realization that Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, is the day before Ash Wednesday. It is the day to “super-size” our sins before we confess them on Ash Wednesday and give up something for Lent. This idea I formed just made me dislike the practice of Lent even more.
These three incidences had been my entire education regarding Lent. I had no interest or understanding of it.
Then I heard Father Barron of “Word of Fire Catholic Ministries,” compare Lent to Spring Training. The baseball player knows how to play baseball, he is passionate about the game, it is his livelihood and yet each spring he leaves the comforts of his home and goes back to the basics to become a better player. He refreshes his skills, renews his strength, and gains new insight in how to play better.
Lent is my Spring Training, I am getting back to the basics, I am giving up something I enjoy to focus on time spent in prayer, Bible reading, reflection and giving of my time and resources to others. Each year I spend in the practice of Lent, my relationship with Jesus deepens, my knowledge of the Bible becomes clearer and I’ve drawn closer to people because I have prayed for them and made a tangible difference in the world because I have given of my love, my time and my resources.
I will carry these renewed habits long past the celebration of Easter and I will be better for having given up something small for the gain of something meaningful.