Someone asked me at dinner today what I was giving up for Lent. This took me by surprise. For starters, I thought only teenagers partook in the ritual of giving up foodstuffs for 40 days and night. There is also the point I will make that choosing to give up something can actually have quite a selfish motive, just as the Pharisees in today’s Gospel from Matthew are condemned.
Someone even asked me why I had a grey cross on my forehead.
“It’s Ash Wednesday,” I reminded them.
In return, I received a blank stare.
Forget Christmas, it seems people have forgotten the true meaning of Lent in favour of the edible qualities of ‘Pancake Day’ (Shrove Tuesday) and their own absences. Take Twitter, for example. Now, I am utterly guilty of getting caught up in the trivialities of an account, but I like it as a medium for the business of writing. But yesterday. Yesterday, two of the highest trending topics in the UK Twittersphere were #ruinamoviewithpancake (the next step in the #ruinamovie franchise) and #panflake, the simple idea provided by Cadbury of rolling your pancake around a chocolate Flake.
Firstly – eww. Secondly – urg. It upsets me how little this secular world we live in has even been educated about the reasons for Ash Wednesday or even Shrove Tuesday (how many of us know about the old tradition of using up all the ingredients, really?).
You see, whether people realise it or not, when they are ‘giving up’ something in the name of Lent, they are making an advert for their abstinence – “oh, no, I can’t eat that; I’ve given it up for Lent” – for no reason whatsoever. I suspect a lot of people, particularly those my age, who give something up, do it simply because they are used to the idea that Lent = removing something from their lives. They don’t do it in the name of anything.
I wonder if people are conscious or aware of this invasion of conformity and indolence into their lives.
There is a much better way to respect the world during Lent. Of course, I say this from a Catholic perspective, but the idea that one gives their time in Lent more than anything to helping others is something to which anybody can relate. After all, you’d like people to assist you in your own time of need? Do unto others what you would have done to you.
Lent – if you celebrate it for the sacrifice our Lord made for us – is also a time for giving one’s self in greater strength to the Good Works of the Lord. This may mean setting aside a larger tithe to the Church than normal or giving alms to charity on a more frequent basis, or it may mean giving your time to help someone you wouldn’t normally, stranger or friend or simple daily acquaintance.
A larger part of Lenten devotion also comes in the Church’s urge for daily prayer. I know this is something I will be trying to be better at this Lent. I do like the peace prayer provides one, but I find it so difficult in my busy schedules to actually take time out to give my time for the Lord. In particular, I poke myself for grace before dinner, but the idea to do such is swept from me when I make it up to the dining hall. So, that will be my task – to put my prayer forward for the Lord and better myself in body and soul this Lent.
There is always time to look after others – and no better time to do so than in the 40 days of Lent. Forget about the task you’d set for yourself when giving material items up, but replace the idea of yourself with others to serve. Compassion is greater than the money you’d save by giving up something this Lent. Use it.