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Lenten sacrifice time

February 22, 2012

Undoubtedly, Lent is the six-week stretch that hosts my greatest number of failures. Among these failures: remembering to fast on Ash Wednesday and not eat meat on Fridays (upon seeing the empty bag, my mother would often ask me if McDonald’s was offering swimming cows on its menu) and my own personal sacrifices of refraining from TV, soda, chocolate, dessert, impure thoughts and actions, alcohol, etc.

I’m the personification of “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

Many of you atheists, agnostics, and C&E Catholics (Episcopalians) may be asking, “why do you otherwise rational people give up meat and other assorted day-to-day pleasures during Lent? You know, that’s not in the Bible. Jesus never told you to do that.”

Yes, we know it’s not in the Bible. Not specifically anyway, Lent and the sacrificing of certain things harkens back to the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert while he was being tempted by Satan. We do it as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice then and his final sacrifice on the cross.

It’s a noble idea and one I attempt every year regardless of my history of abject failure.

So this year I’m going to try a different technique. Fasting and meatlessness are still on the schedule, but this time instead of sacrifice in terms of giving up something tangible, I’m going to try sacrifice in terms of giving up time spent on leisurely diversions.

1) Pray the Liturgy of the Hours, aka Divine Office or breviary, the official daily prayers of the Catholic Church consisting of the Office of Readings, morning prayer, daytime prayer, evening prayer and night prayer. I try this every year and fail, but this year I’m hoping that technology will assist me. Most of my problems here can be attributed to the fact I never properly learned to read the actual book of prayers. I’m sure the published layout makes sense to clergy and religious, but to those of us who never had a class in it, there’s a bit of a learning curve. But now, there’s the Divine Office for Android and iOS! However, it’s $19.99, which seems a little steep for someone who has yet to successfully read it, so I’ll be using the free Android app iBreviary.

2) Work out. Now to be fair, I’ve been doing a lot of this already. I’m down 26 lbs. since August, which is nice, but I’m not healthy enough yet and I’ve got another 20 lbs. to go, so it’s probably time to up the ante from my rather basic 45 minutes of gym work at lunchtime. Ideally I’d like to spend an hour a day at Crossfit1Force, a haven of fitness determination located on the border of Gloucester and Camden counties in NJ. My friend Erin and her partner-in-health Jesse have turned an idea into a thriving mecca for weight loss and positive energy. Sadly, my schedule doesn’t work for their 7 classes per day. Therefore, it looks like it’ll take some personal perseverance, 6 AM yoga or P90X in my basement. Not the ideal option for someone who lacks fitness motivation, but, if you want something done, you might as well do it yourself.

3) Daily blogging. This may actually be more of a sacrifice for you readers than for me, but I’ve become pretty lax with my writing lately so I’ll use Lent as an inspiration for my musings on life. Ideally I’ll write about issues of faith during the next 6 weeks, but I probably should promise that; a) I’m not sure I can defend that many theological opinions and b) something secular is bound to set me off and inspire a few paragraphs of bile.

Now you may be thinking, “Mike, these seem a tad selfish, what no sacrifices involving family or community?” I get that perspective, but here’s the thing, I should be doing those things anyway, and they shouldn’t be considered sacrifices. Spending time and energy on loved ones or the greater good should be a given, not just something I do for 6 weeks. I’ll simply continue my struggle to get better at that.

So there you go, my three efforts to sacrifice for Lent. I have no idea if I’ll be successful, to quote The West Wing’s Leo McGarry, “Who is the monk that said, ‘I don’t always know what the right thing to do is, my Lord, but I think the fact that I want to please you pleases you.'”

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MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

– Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”

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[By the way, If this article seems familiar, it’s because I pondered the same thing last year “What to give up for Lent?“]

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