Giving Up For Lent

Last night we were having dinner with friends and the question came up.

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

We went around the table sharing the sacrifices we’d planned and pretty quickly we had a list of the usual suspects; chocolates, sweets, fast food, alcohol, and swearing.

That conversation and this post on a Mormon blog have gotten me thinking about the character of Lent and what is means (or should mean to me.)

The danger of Lent is that it too easily becomes a mirror.  We undertake the disciplines of Lent because they are good for us.  We eat less or cut out sweets or alcohol because they are distracting us from God, but also because they are bad for us.  Or we engage in various prayers and sacrifices on the premise that God see us in a more favorable light or might be more inclined to grant our requests.

Both of these approaches are comfortably uncomfortable because they keep the focus on us.  Even if our intention is purely to grow closer to God, we risk navel-gazing so long as we think our will power makes any real difference to the sacrifice.

As I get older, I’ve begun to understand that Lent isn’t about giving something up.  It’s about giving up.

Monestir_de_Montserrat_vista_Roca_de_St._JaumeOne of my favorite saints is Ignatius of Loyola.  As a young man, he dreamed of being a valiant knight.  He had read romantic stories and his head was stuffed with images of himself, sword in hand, vanquishing foes.  To me, it seems that he was a 16th century fan-boy.

His life took a dark turn on May 20, 1521 when he was part of a Spanish force fighting the French at Navarre.  A cannonball wounded his legs — one of the quite badly.  He was shipped back to his parent’s castle to recover.  While convalescing, he had two books to keep him entertained — a book on the life of Christ and a book about the lives of the saints.  As he read and re-read them he gradually shifted his focus from glory for himself to bringing glory to God.

After he healed, set out on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Before going very gar, he stopped at the Abbey of Santa Maria de Monsterrat.  There, in the chapel, he held a solitary night-long vigil at the altar.  This was common for those about to be knighted, but Ignatius had a different idea in mind.

When dawn came, he took of his sword and laid it on the altar.  He literally disarmed himself, surrendering to God.  He was giving up.

Ignatius went on to become one of the great figures in salvation history. He eventually founded the Society of Jesus which we know today as the Jesuits.

So, maybe instead of giving something up for Lent, we should follow Ignatius’ example and just give up.

— Kevin

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Back from the Desert

There’s a delightful bit in Pixar’s “Up” in which Russell (the eternally optimistic scout) is trying to assemble a tent.

Tents are hard!

The scene ends with the tent sailing over the rain-soaked horizon with Russell dejectedly declaring, “Tents are hard.”

A few years back Cathy and I adopted that as a family meme during Lent.  Whenever our Lenten sacrifices seemed particularly difficult, we’d look at each other and say, “Lent is hard.”

This Lent turned out to be unexpectedly difficult.  Not that I’m complaining, mind you.  It just wasn’t the Lent we anticipated.  But, I guess, that might have been the point.

Of course we were busy with the formation classes we were teaching and the Catechist Formation course we were taking.  For me, spring is always a busy time at work as we wrap up one fiscal year and plan for the next.

That was expected.

Cathy’s accident on St. Patrick’s Day was something of a surprise.

She fell and broke her right arm.

Too much merriment?  Nope.  She was at work and tripped on the sidewalk while crossing between two buildings.  She’d been holding an empty box and had her hand curled under.  When she fell, she landed on the back of her right wrist.  I’m not medically trained, but if I understood the doctor, the official diagnosis was that she “crunched the bone up, but good.”

Good enough, anyway.  The next day she had surgery to put in a T-shaped bit of titanium and seven screws.  (Oddly, when you compare broken arm stories with people, they want to know exactly how many screws you got.  Perhaps there’s some secret club you can join when you have enough screws in your bones.)

She was out of work for the better part of two months.  She’s had casts and braces and physical therapy appointments and doctor’s visits. Her medical clearance was granted this past Wednesday and she’s pleased to be back on the job — even if she’s discovering some unexpected limitations.  (Who knew staplers required so much force to operate?)

Cathy was a trooper and did well.  Still, we had to shift some of the household responsibilities and some things had to go by the wayside (including the blog) while we sorted things out.

Evan’ sojourn in Austin was spirit-filled and he came back with a better idea of how parish life looks from the priest’s point of view.  He also had a chance to visit old friends, new friends and distant relatives whilst in the weeks leading up to Easter.

And, as part of my Lent, I designed a new website.

It felt, in many ways, like a sojourn in the desert.  Not what we had expected; and more harsh than we anticipated.

There’s power in the desert imagery, though.  Cathy and I love the desert wastelands of southern Utah; the intimidating rock formations, deep canyons, and surprisingly stubborn life.  The desert is a hard place, but that hardness makes the life there all the more sweet.  Like grace born of suffering.

Easter was lovely, though.  The Vigil Mass was beautiful and moving as always.  Cathy has been restored and life is settling back into something resembling routine.  In the end, it was worth the journey, but I think the phrase “Lent is hard” may mean something a bit different to us from now on.

— Dad