With ashes as a Lenten Participation Trophy, you'll be off to a great start!
If you’re planning to accept ashes on Ash Wednesday as your participation trophy given in advance of your participation, then this essay is just for you. The morbid, uncomfortable (and, let’s face it—unnecessary) asceticism associated with Lent is dead (death by neglect) and needs to be taken out to the compost heap. A more comfortable, natural, self-affirming approach to Lent, one more suited to the busy lifestyle of contemporary Catholics is needed.
If you find yourself wincing as the assembly wheezes its way through another chorus of “These 40 Days of Lent, O Lord,” cheer up! Lent is not really 40 continuous days! It’s really 12:01 a.m. Ash Wednesday to Midnight Sunday morning—and then you have 24 hours off from Lent! No fasting! No sacrifices! No extra anything! Back to business as usual for a whole day! Isn’t the Sabbath great?
Midnight Monday starts the Lent clock ticking again, and all you have to do is hold on until you get your next “Get-Out-of-Lent-Free!” card the following Sunday. Granted, you’re not supposed to sing the Gloria or any Alleluias at Mass even on Sunday at Lent, but, really, who cares? You never sang them during the year anyway, right? Well, okay, Easter Sunday morning, you tried to sing with gusto, but after the second verse of “Alleluia! The Strife Is O’er,” it was a bit much, wasn’t it?
The three traditional killjoys of Lent were prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Most people, caught up in the fervor of the first three days of Lent, had grandiose ideas: 15 decades of the Rosary every day; eating nothing but bread and water; and handing over your spare cash to some worthy cause. But by the weekend, your self-esteem took a big hit didn’t it? You “misplaced” your beads; you really needed that Big Mac on Friday; and the weekend wasn’t going to pay for itself, was it? It’s time to put aside those impositions that make you feel like a failure. With a little ingenuity, prayer, fasting and almsgiving can be recycled, repurposed, and more user-friendly.
Prayer: Stillness, silence and solitude just have no place in your busy day! Beads are boring, and the parish has lousy parking, so that “sit-in-church-and-do-nothing” way of praying is out. It’s just torture, isn’t it? Instead, turn prayer into a little “me” time. Get an app, and make plans about how much you look forward to feeling even better about yourself than you do now. After all, God wants you to be happy, right?
Fasting: Before you know, beach time will be here, and in God’s Providence, Lent arrives right on time! You can drop a few of those holiday pounds by cutting carbs and going organic. If Starbucks was managed by Catholics, there’d be some special Lenten smoothie dyed purple, with a catchy, metro-style nickname. Drink lots of water too (an old dieter’s trick), and tell yourself it helps you to think about Baptism.
Almsgiving: Ouch! That’s a tough one! Remember—alms are supposed to be what you give above and beyond your ordinary tithe. But who tithes anymore? You might consider putting the loose change you find around the house into the basket on Sunday. That’s so shortsighted! Why not invest in a worthy cause that’s going to last, namely, yourself? Invest your resources in making you a better you. You want to be able to hold yourself high and proud at Mass on Easter Sunday morning, right? That outcome won’t happen by itself! Start spending—time, energy and cash—now. God knows you deserve it!
What about going to confession during Lent? Well, if you must … but remember, it’s supposed to be a celebration, OK? Tell the priest about how other people’s sins annoy you; mention generic “struggles” you might have; at the risk of getting morbid, you may mention a specific sin that you “fell into.” There’s no need to offer details, or even to think about how life should be different 10 seconds after you leave the confessional. Remember: Going to confession is about having your record expunged, and that’s all. Don’t get all worked up about “conversion” or “reparation.” If you really needed to change, then your growing self-esteem wouldn’t be justified, and who could live like that?
With a bit of effort, a new-and-improved, even better you, a you that you can really feel good about, will be your real participation trophy at Easter. Agree to look a bit grim on Ash Wednesday, just to fit in. Schedule some really important events for Holy Week, so that your overly pious relatives can’t drag you to some dull ritual that lasts forever. And start counting the days to the chocolate high of Easter Sunday morning!
When I write next, I will continue our Lenten reflections. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
[Ed. Note] We know we don’t need to remind you that this is satire. For a truly good Lent, do the reverse!
Check out the radio interviews on this topic:
With Teresa Tomeo on “Catholic Connection.” The interview starts at about 13:50.
With John Harper on “Morning Air.” The interview starts at about 40:00.