I’ve been asking some of the kids at school what they are “giving up” for Lent and I’m hearing things like, “I’m giving up chocolate” or “I’m giving up soda.” Admittedly, when I think of Lent, I think of my favorite Roadrunner and Wiley Coyote cartoon where Wiley finds himself suspended in mid-air between two giant cliffs, holding a sign with one word on it: “Yipe!”
Some love this season. But I will admit: I’m not a big fan. I don’t like to admit that I’ve grown too attached to things or that I’ve let the garden of my life become overgrown with weeds and the vines. But if I’ve had a good Lent—a Lent where I’ve really worked in the garden and been honest with God and myself—I find that I’m a more joyful, peaceful, and holier person at the end. The best Easters that I’ve ever had are those that have come after a grueling Lent. A Lent on the Cross.
Today, our Gospel exhorts us to cast out into the deep. Not the shallow, but the deep.
What does this mean for our Lenten observance? It means go big or go home. Giving up chocolates and soda is fine—for 3rd graders. Cast out into the deep. Love is not found in the shallow.
As a priest, I hear many ideas about what people do. Let me share a few. They fall under three categories.
On one level, we are obliged to fast twice during Lent. Everyone 18-59 must fast this Wednesday—Ash Wednesday—and on Good Friday. That means one regular meal, two small, and only liquids in between. That is required for everyone 18-59. We are also obliged to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent. Why fish, then? Having followed Jesus’ command to “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and come, follow me,” the Church was poor and so they ate the food of the poor: fish: fish which could be caught in any lake, river, or sea. This, then reminds us to live simply. And it is done on Friday to remind us of the day of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.
That is what is required of us. Now, to make our Lent fruitful: we need to double-down on our rooting out of some of the evil in our lives and some things to which we are attached. I’m going to give you a list.
Fast from the bar, fast from gossip, fast from anger. Fast from cursing or lying or judging or comparing yourself with others or from tearing yourself down. Fast from being picky. Fast from being negative or sarcastic or immodest. Fast from insults. Let your fast be awesome: so… fast from hitting the snooze button. Fast from facebook, from twitter, from texting, youtube, television, and staying up late. Give yourself a bedtime. Fast from junk food, from fast food, and salting your food. Have dinner with your family. Fast from video games or from the ipod or the i-whatever and from secular music and from the radio when you drive. Listen to some sacred music. Listen to God in the silence. Fast from complaining. Fast from having your way. Fast from checking your phone when you are with people. Fast from make-up. Or from a hot shower. And if you can’t live without it, maybe this is the year that you live without it.
Cast out into the deep. Not the shallow.
So take a moment right now, cast your net into this list, and pick one.
…. I’m serious. Pick one. Make a commitment.
As we give up something, something good and holy must replace it. If we give up television or facebook, we must replace it with something good, else we will replace it with youtube.
Attend Holy Mass during the week in addition to Sunday. Read a chapter of the Gospels each day. Pick up a book on a saint and read it. Go to the Adoration chapel before you go home each day. Go to the Stations of the Cross—every Friday at 2:30pm or 7pm. Get up early and pray each morning. When you go to bed, make a list of 5 things for which you are thankful. Sing. Sing at Mass—even if you think you stink at it. Even if you know you stink at it, sing. Open the hymnal and sing. Sing some more. Follow along with the Eucharistic prayers at Mass. Go to confession—go more than once. Pray the rosary every day. Go to the cathedral or the botanical gardens or the art museum or the symphony and see or hear something beautiful. Stay longer after Holy Mass. Exercise. Pray with your spouse before bed. Hug your kids. Read them a bible story when you tuck them in. Read your 24-year-old a bible story before you tuck him in.
Cast out into the deep!—not the shallow.
Take a moment right now and pick one. Cast into the deep.
This isn’t just giving money to the poor. This is figuring out how you need to love the people around you and then to do it. If you are fasting from TV, spend that time with family. If you are fasting from shopping or from eating out, give that money to a good charity. If you are fasting from being-and-looking busy, then slow down and maybe make a real dinner for the family. Maybe you need to call your mom. Other ideas: Write a love-letter to your spouse. Write your grandma a letter. Take someone out to lunch each week—a neighbor you kind of ignore, a lonely co-worker, one of your children. Volunteer. Tithe. And if you already tithe, step up your tithing from 10%-15%. Do the dishes when it’s not your turn. Hold doors open for someone every day. Buy your wife flowers each week. Try to have another child. Write kind notes and hand them to random strangers you see. Compliment your spouse each morning. Compliment a stranger. Tell someone about Jesus.
Cast out into the deep!
I’ve given you over 50 ideas. Now: a few tips to help you be successful:
1) If you fall, get back on that horse, cowboy. Lent can be easy and exciting at first. But Lent is Lent when you’ve been carrying the cross for 20 days. No pain, no gain.
2) Don’t do a penance that will be a penance for others. If you know you will snap at those you love if you don’t have your coffee because you’re fasting from coffee, then maybe you shouldn’t be fasting from coffee this year.
3) Don’t wait until the last minute to “do Lent.” Start now, start strong, be strong, finish strong. Easter will then be awesome strong.
4) Remember: You’re not doing this alone and you don’t have to go it alone. If you want to go to daily Mass but know you’ll need someone to help you, invite someone along. Invite, invite, invite.
So, there you go. We are now five days into Lent. So let's do it!