or if I've do too little to make Lent a transformative experience in my life.
I've thought back about the heroic penances and mortification that our forefathers in the Faith used to take on every Lent (like the Emperor Charlemagne who I attempted to emulate last Lent) and wondered at how they could do so much more than most of us even dream of doing today. Then I moved and found myself at a new parish this Lent, a new parish with a new priest who has thought through some of these same problems and hit upon one essential difference between the Lents of yore and those of today - our ancestors all gave up the same things, communally, while we each do Lent alone, individualistically.
To correct this, Father has challenged us as a parish community to give up the same things each week of Lent, to help and encourage one another, to reclaim Lent as a communal activity and I wanted to encourage you all to join us. Here is what we will, together, be giving up (something different each week):
Week One - Sweets and Treats
No chocolate, no desserts, no candies, no dining out, no fast food, no anything that might be a special treat for yourself. Instead, when you are tempted to gratify some carnal desire, realize that your real desire is for God. Everything we want in this life is really just a confusion of the deep, spiritual hunger we have for God, which is precisely why having God (in the beatific vision) constitutes paradise - the fulfillment of all desire.
Week Two - Unnecessary Spending
Try to spend as little money this week as possible. Buy only the absolute essentials. No books, gadgets, new apps, eating out, "impulse buys," new clothes, etc. If you want to take it to the next level, keep track of the money you would have normally spent and give it to the poor. The idea here is to build on week one realizing that there is only one necessary thing - Jesus (cf. Lk 10:42).
Week Three - Careless Talk, Profanity, Blasphemy
After spending the first two weeks cutting out those material things we use to distract us from our desperate need for God, this week we are seeking to clear out a very common bad habit, that of using our speech for other than praising God and speaking the Truth. Whether we like to gossip, swear, use the Lord's name in vain, or just spend our time "shooting the breeze" this week we are seeking to use our words judiciously - for the greater glory of God.
Week Four - Alcohol and/or Coffee
This week Father asks us to give up a beloved drink that we daily indulge in. Perhaps, if you're Italian like me, you enjoy a glass of vino with dinner. Or maybe, again like myself, you can't get through the day without drinking 5 or 6 espressi. If neither coffee nor alcohol is your thing, maybe you drink soda or tea or whatever else, the actual type of drink matters less than giving up something we thirst for. Depriving ourselves of that for which we thirst, will give us an opportunity to meditate on the thirst we ought to have for spiritual things. Instead of having that glass of wine at dinner, pray a family rosary or an extemporaneous pray of praise. Instead of the morning "cup of joe," pray an act of love, an act of hope, and an act of faith to get your day started.
Week Five - Entertainment
Now that we've increased our knowledge of our desire for God, we turn to focus on creating more silence in our lives. The modern world is a ceaseless cesspool of constant stimulus almost tailor made to drown the "small still voice" in which God speaks to us (cf. 1 Kings 19:12). C.S. Lewis, writing in a much silenter age, saw this, having a demon say,
Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. We have already made great strides in this direction as regards the Earth. The melodies and silences of Heaven will be shouted down in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it.
They just might be loud enough today. To counteract all this noise we will spend the week creating silence.
HOLY WEEK - Food
Father is asking everyone at the parish to either give up a meal a day or to select a favorite food to abstain from for the whole week. This is to focus us on our deeper spiritual hunger for God after all, "it is written: man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God (Matt 4:4)." I think I'll revisit my Charlemagne Lenten Challenge and fast from meat for the whole week and eat nothing before sundown each day. During mealtime, instead of eating, reading from the Bible or some other spiritual classic will help refocus us on the hunger which only the Lord can satisfy.