Self-Denial for the Modern Age

lent-cartoonLenten sacrifice is very hot right now.

Recalibrating one’s behavior in preparation for Easter certainly isn’t a new practice; once the Council of Nicea (comprised of bishops assembled by the Roman Emperor Constantine) nailed down the 40-day Lenten season back in the year 325, it was bound to catch on. No doubt, the early Church’s emphasis on fasting, abstinence, and meditation-motivated self-deprivation have spawned many Christians’ current practices of penance, self-discipline, more God-focused thinking, and the Friday Night Fish Fry.

If the media is any measure, 2009 seems to be a real banner year for sacrifice. Consider the following recently reported stories:

1. When NPR listeners weighed in on their personal Lent-based self-denial spins, they said that they’re giving up more than just chocolate. Other Lenten sacrifices included walking instead of driving, limiting Target shopping to once per week, using time otherwise spent on the computer to volunteer or catch up on household chores (a sacrifice within a sacrifice, in my opinion), taming the tongue by avoiding gossip, and, my favorite, giving up alcohol, as it has the dual benefit of giving one a clear head with which to meditate on Christ’s suffering, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

2. Readers of say they’re giving up everything from bad attitudes to Little Debbie snack cakes. My favorite self-sacrifice resolution is from a contributor named Ed, who writes this: “For this Lent…I’m trying to overcome a weird addiction I have–I love to make myself upset by listening to people whose politics and attitudes differ from mine, i.e., Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly…. In some perverse way I’m addicted to the feelings of smug superiority and righteous indignation that come up in me when these people spout their hateful nonsense…but it diverts energy and attention away from God by focusing it on my own ego.” Whatever your political persuasion, I think Ed has a good point. Many of us have someone (or many someones) with whom we disagree and possibly even love to hate. Why not shelve our own “smug superiority and righteous indignation” in favor of peace, prayer, and perhaps a more open mind? Give it a try, and if a couple Little Debbie cakes will help you feel better about it, then you have my permission.

3. According to a story from the Associated Press, Italian bishops have recommended recycling, proper disposal of chewing gum, and bio-powered transport (i.e., walking) as other Lent-worthy sacrifices. They’ve also proposed a high-tech fast for Lent, urging the faithful to set aside iPods, e-mail, text messaging, and online social networking, if only on Fridays. No mention of giving up your favorite blog (two points for me, yeah!!). Incidentally, if you haven’t given up all things electronic for the season, you may want to check out the Vatican’s YouTube Channel, where the Pope’s weekly Angelus messages (and other items) are available in a variety of languages. Really.

As for me, my perspective on Lenten sacrifice has been skewed by my Catholic school classmates, several of whom used to give up cursing for Lent. I’m thinking that they could have made a little more of a stretch, but that’s coming from a girl who has 6 boxes of Girl Scout cookies floating around her dining room. Some of them aren’t opened (yet), but still.


  1. Lorraine said,

    March 11, 2009 at 6:14 am

    At my Catholic school cussing was not an option so therefore it was a no-go for Lent! We had lots more options from Sr. Oliver and even though she was only about 4 ft tall ( and I thought she was about 70) she was a very intimidating figure! So there was lots of prayer, reflection and sacrifice – our Project Compassion box did very nicely during Lent at McKillop College! Funnily enough I never realised until quite recently that the Sundays are not counted as days in Lent! Neither the nuns nor my parents let us in on that one!
    The one I remember most clearly was the Lent when I was about 12 or 13 and I gave up sugar in my tea for Lent. It was a biggie I can tell you! I was convinced that I was crossing off Purgatory time! The funny thing is that on Easter Sunday when I could FINALLY put the sugar back into the cup it was an anticlimax because it tasted foul. I still to this day, many, many, many year later don’t have sugar in tea or coffee! What a shame I could only count it the once!

  2. scheirmad said,

    March 11, 2009 at 8:34 am

    That is a shame!! Maybe you could start sneaking the sugar back in, in small amounts, then gradually increase until Ash Wednesday, at which point you can once again sacrifice the sugar. Sounds like it could work, but rings of a stunt the Pharisees might try.

    I didn’t know you were a Catholic school girl too! How is it that there’s always at least one 4 footer?

    Your sugar story reminds me that I accidentally broke my pre-first communion fast when my Grandma gave me jelly beans 45 minutes before the ceremony. Am I legalistic, or what?

    By the way, did you give up anything this year?

    -Scheir M.

  3. Lorraine said,

    March 13, 2009 at 8:42 am

    I was trying to give up “extras” – you know all the things that are yummy and delicious – but we are so snowed under and stressed out at school (and it’s only Week 7 of 1st Term) that I’ve failed already! I think I’m lucky the Lord understands teachers!

  4. scheirmad said,

    March 13, 2009 at 9:51 am

    Well, service and sacrifice are certainly integral to the teacher job description, so I think you’re off the hook. If I were in your shoes, I’d certainly have a hard time keeping my hands out of the TimTams!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: