Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Think Fast

Brian was intrigued by a Lenten fact that I told him a couple of years ago. Today is Ash Wednesday. Easter is April 24 this year. Lent is supposed to be 40 days, yet the calendar says there are 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. How can we reconcile this?

The answer is that the Catholic Church calendar doesn't consider Sundays to be included in the 40 days of Lent. Brian, like the Pharisees before him is overly concerned with Church rules and regulations, so he took this new knowledge as an opportunity too break his Lenten vow and, at least for one day each week, indulge in whatever pleasure of the flesh from which he had been abstaining. Since Brian was like a Pharisee, I tried to talk to him in the form of a parable (editor's note: a good SAT test question would be Brian is to Pharasees as Paul is to blank):

A student at Notre Dame once met Fr. Ted Hesburgh. He asked Father Ted if he was required to keep his Lenten sacrifice on Sundays, since Sundays weren't considered part of Lent. Fr. Ted responded that the Lenten sacrifice was a way for us to personally remind ourselves of Christ's sacrifice. He informed the student that as a cigar aficionado, it wasn't easy for him to give up the stogies during Lent. He asked the student if his sacrifice would be as meaningful if he had a reprieve from it once a week.

Hopefully during this Lenten season, everyone will have the opportunity to reflect on Christ's sacrifice and to personalize it themselves, even if they only do it six days a week.

The Elder Adds-- Instead of spending so much time looking for Lenten loopholes, perhaps we would be better off heeding David Mills' advice to Just Give It Up:

Hence the value of Lent, which begins today, and of an old discipline that seems, even among Catholics, to be now somewhat neglected: the traditional discipline of giving things up for Lent. Bookish people being as fallen as anyone else, we might take a brief break from the pressing issues and interesting intellectual questions to reflect on the value of this discipline. Giving things up for Lent has, in my experience, two obvious benefits.

The first is that you very quickly find out how much a hold the world has on you. This is a lesson to which the Christian will give intellectual assent, but few of us really see what it means. We like to think of ourselves being happy to give up anything for the Lord just like that, with a snap of our fingers, even our lives, but most of us find it hard to give up something that really doesn’t matter. You dream of standing up to the lions in the coliseum, and find yourself snapping at the waitress because the restaurant is out of your favorite dessert.


The second benefit of giving things up for Lent is that you also find, at the end of Lent, how good are the things God has given you. The things you’ve given up come to you afresh, almost as if you’d never enjoyed them before. When you can have them any time you want, and do have them any time you want, you don’t enjoy them as God meant them to be enjoyed. At least I don’t.