Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I’m giving up bread for the next 40 days. If I do that successfully, it will be the second time in a row and in my whole life that I have stuck to my Lenten guns. Last year was Diet Coke. I was thinking about giving up cheese this year but that just leaves me with my other two food groups: wine and Diet Coke. So bread it is. Let me ash you, are you observing Lent this year?
My favorite Ash Wednesday story (you probably don’t hear enough Ash Wednesday anecdotes) took place in Boston in 1988. I was working for the Bank of New England and since most everyone in Boston is Catholic, lots of people were going to get ashes at lunch. I joined the crowd and we walked to the chapel at Downtown Crossing. I had never lived in a city with such a large Catholic population and was amazed at the Ash Wednesday machine. The St. Anthony Shrine has two chapels — one upstairs, one downstairs. The service took 20 minutes and as we left our chapel all ashed up, people were entering the other chapel and that’s how it goes All. Day. They were cranking out ashed Catholics like Star Bellied Sneetches.
Derwood was confirmed into the Church last Easter. We have some very interesting conversations about Catholicism. He being a recent convert and me being born this way — results in very different ideas on the Catholic faith and the practice of that faith. Last night was one of those conversations that made me really think about what Lent is to me, what is my understanding of it. As a kid and clearly into my young adulthood, I got the ashes and talked the talk about giving up something but it didn’t mean much. Everyone was doing it.
I think that Lent has become something akin to Labor Day or Memorial Day. Its true meaning has been lost in the chatter. Ash Wednesday is like New Year’s Day and Lent is a second chance at New Year’s resolutions. That is not its intended purpose.
To me, Lenten sacrifice is to remind believers of what Christ went through in the desert for 40 days prior to his crucifixion. Lent takes Catholics through our faith in 40 days ending in the heartbreaking Passion of the Christ, His sacrifice for our sins and the joy of the Resurrection.
It’s not a jump start on quitting smoking or dieting. Whatever little sacrifice we make during Lent is just a nudge. So when I want a bagel in the next hour, I’m reminded that I’m not going to have one and why I’m not having one. I am a pretty self-indulgent gal, which is why I’m hard to shop for (50th bday countdown: B minus 8), so actually imposing a restriction on myself isn’t common. Forty days isn’t much to ask to think about something other than the weather, Brian Williams, or what’s on Netflix (and those are all worthy topics).
Thanks to dear Derwood, I’m reminded that Lent can be and should be more than an empty ritual of my faith. I think about what I’m doing and WHY I am doing it in ways I really never bothered to before because, again, that’s was just the way it was.