on lent

at the vatican: st. peter's basilica

It’s Palm Sunday, the beginning of the last week of Lent. This morning at Mass, we heard the Gospel of Christ’s crucifixion. We’re getting close to Good Friday, and we’re getting close to Easter. The bad news, and the best news. It’s all so intense, and so very difficult to understand.

I was baptized Catholic a little over 21 years ago. I’ve attended 13 years of Catholic school. But after going to a non-Catholic college and entering the working world, I’ve discovered something rather new to me: not everyone is Catholic. In fact, lots and lots of people are not Catholic. And while I always knew that, I was never exposed to it. Suddenly I’m one of the only ones with ashes on a random Wednesday and no desserts and egg salad on Fridays, and I have to explain it all… and it makes me realize just how little I understand myself. Maybe, even, just how little can be understood.

Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, 6 weeks (and a bit) before Easter. Lent is a time of preparation. Contrary to Advent, the 4 weeks before Christmas, which is a time of joyful preparation, Lent is meant for penitence. We start Lent with the Ash Wednesday service, and our heads are marked with ashes in the sign of the cross.

What I take from Lent is the impermanence of the world we live in. We’re observing Lenten rituals as preparation for Jesus’ crucifixion, when he opened Heaven for us. Every year, we remember how awesome that is, and we do special things to remind ourselves that we aren’t down here forever. That, to me, is what it’s all about.

dome inside st. peter's basilica, vatican cityWhen the ashes are placed on our foreheads, the minister says, “remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. Our lives are a great gift, but they will end. Everything comes from God.

This ties into the “giving up”. When we give things up for Lent, make small sacrifices, we’re again saying, “see, God? I remember that everything comes from you. I’m acknowledging that there are better things than this world, so I am separating myself from the things of this world that I love most.” It’s not a torture or a punishment, it’s a prayer.

I gave up desserts for Lent, and probably the hardest part is that it would be so easy to cheat. All I would have to do is reach into the pantry for a cookie, or grab a spoon of ice cream out of the freezer. There is nothing but my self control holding me back.

But yesterday that led me to a brand new thought. It would be that easy for me to eat a cookie – wouldn’t it have also been that easy for Jesus to have saved Himself from the cross? He performed all sorts of miracles – He could’ve just said, “dad, I’m done with this, let me down.” But He didn’t. And I’m glad. And I’m sure His pain on the cross was just a tad worse than my pain at not eating a cookie. So I’ll pass.

4 Responses

  1. Rachael says:

    I was raised Catholic, and though I am no longer a Christian, I still have huge respect for that religion. I remember getting the ashes on my forehead and having to explain it the rest of the day to the other kids. lol. It’s funny how little we actually understand about what we believe. It’s great that you’re digging a little deeper into your faith!

  2. Aunt Jeanie says:

    Beautiful, Sam!!!

  3. fillyjonk says:

    Thank you for this.

    In my Protestant tradition we did not do much with the “giving things up” and sometimes it was hard to understand but I really like how you phrased it, as an acknowledgment that those things come FROM God and you are reminding yourself of this.

    A blessed Easter to you, at the end of this Holy week.

  4. Jennifer D says:

    I just came across your post and had to comment because it struck a chord. I am a Catholic, though I’ve reached across many religions to understand my gift from God; my life and those in it. For Lent this year, I went on a 100% vegan diet. See, I’m a foodie, and along similar thoughts you shared in your post, I wanted to do more than give up a chocolate or soda or things I’ve done over the years. I wanted to give what I could, actually what I thought I never could, if just for a short time. It was an awesome experience. Thanks for posting something moving.

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