As we enter this new liturgical moment we call Lent, let me share a few thoughts inspired by a conversation with my 19 year-old nephew, Alex.
I asked Alex what he was going to give up for Lent. He replied without hesitating, “Oh Uncle Andy, I don’t want to go the negative route, but do something more.”
A common and increasingly fashionable misinterpretation as we enter these forty days of Lent is that the traditional practice of “giving something up” is a negative approach. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
This season is not about doing more, but doing less; not about addition, but subtraction. Its spirit goes against a relentless cultural conditioning that promotes the idea that we are all better off the more we have, the more we do, the more we achieve, the more we are known. This season teaches us to say “No” again to the kind of societal brainwashing that suggests we have too little and to reassert our freedom in the Christian message of “Yes” to having more than enough in Christ.
We specifically give things up to exercise our freedom and practice our “no” to those compulsory attachments to things, people and activities that we unthinkingly turn to instead of the one thing necessary: loving God and each other as God’s own son and daughter.
Now Lent does ask something more of us: to fast, pray and gives alms to the poor without fanfare. This is “the more” of Lent we need to concern ourselves with, the built-in scriptural additions. But to remember to eat more moderately, pray more consistently and give to the poor (not just materially, but emotionally, spiritually or socially), we need “a daily trigger,” as it were; a reminder that this time is not like any other time of the year. It can be as simple as taking that routine, daily cup of coffee without sugar or cream these 40 days or without both. Or is can be as challenging as saying no to certain favorite T.V. programs or to T.V. altogether during Lent. But this is only the beginning of our Lenten effort. The trigger is for the real work of Lent: turning to God in our hunger instead of the next cookie, turning to God for conversation instead of our cellphone, next text or Facebook update; turning to God disguised as our impoverished brother and sister, rather than saying, “not my responsibility” or “I shouldn’t get involved.”
So far from being negative, the season of Lent is always about the positive: the positive retrieval of our God-given freedom to choose what really fills us and to detach ourselves from the superfluous pursuits that leave us in the long run increasingly unfree and imprisoned.
A blessed and fruitful Lent,
Fr. Andrew Carl Wisdom, O.P.,
Director of the Society for Vocational Support &
Vicar for Mission Advancement