Lenten Cross

[From the archives – I thought this one was worth reposting.]

“So what did you give up for Lent?” It’s a frequent question you hear these days – and not just amongst Catholics. Protestants are also known to give things up for Lent. But another more common practice within the past decade is taking up something, rather than giving up something.

Though this is a noble idea to take on something for Lent – like more prayer, or giving more time to the church, or visiting someone more often, or exercising more, or donating more to a worthy cause – I believe its more an invention of today’s Church to mimic religion at a time when religion and spirituality wanes from people’s lives. Hardly a bad thing. Typically, though, it strays from the true issue – the lack of spirituality in the Church which is taught to its members. The Church, in general, has spent (and continues to do so) too much time since Vatican II watering down religion and putting God in a box. Rather than raising man to God, the Church attempts to bring God down to man, and explain Him away like a myth or a science project.

I’ve no intention of getting into a theological discussion on this subject, so relax. But I do have my own thoughts on the “give up something” vs the “take up something” debate.

First of all, the concept of giving up something connects our Lent with the sufferings of Christ. That’s what we’re taught when we were small. Those little things we do, the little sufferings we endure, unite us with the Sufferings of Christ. We use the time to reflect on what He did for us – our own Salvation. It becomes a very personal thing and not at all an archaic idea or a stodgy notion.

Giving something up for Lent also has another positive outcome. By giving something up, it allows us to focus on something else. By avoiding something for 40 days (excepting Sundays, if you want to go that route), trains our minds to look at other options and breaks up those old habits we have, possibly relying on something as innocuous as chocolate or baked goods. Sometimes we rely on these things too naturally and without thought; and by forcing ourselves to think about them in a different way (e.g., putting it right up in our face), we are able to realise that we can actually live without them. In a sense, we can use the time to re-program ourselves to demote something from being a “necessity” in our lives (as we may view it), and bring it down to a more manageable level of “occasional” where it will no longer control us psychologically, emotionally, mentally, or even spiritually.

Especially in this day and age where our days or filled with work and commuting and catching up with everything and everyone – computers and “smart phones” having freed us up to do more things in our lives – who has the time to “take up something” for Lent? I don’t need to limit my prayer or philanthropy to the 40 days of Lent. It’s actually something I should be doing all year long. It might actually make more sense to give up something and make that little extra sacrifice.

If you’ve chosen to not give something up for Lent because you feel it focuses on the negative (taking something away as opposed to adding something), but have instead chosen to take up something, then I applaud you – but I also ask you not to stop doing it once we reach Eastertide. But for next year, give it some thought to perhaps give up something – not as a negative, but as a positive; as a personal connection with Christ. Take God out of the box, and allow those old, time-honoured traditions that have sustained the Church for nearly 2,000 years to raise you up closer to God.