You don’t have to be Catholic to be familiar with the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” Giving something up is only one-third of the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, yet it seems to have a fairly deep grip on the cultural imagination – McDonald’s Lenten observance includes ramping up the production of Filet-o-Fish since we give up meat on Fridays, and some people even give up the internet’s holy of holies – Facebook. Talk about going to extremes.
Yet as much as there’s an attraction to the romance of giving something up, I sometimes think that what I really need is something more: more silence, more time spent in service of the poor, more prayer, more turning the other cheek, and more praying for my enemies. My life is often full of things that take me away from who I really want to be, and Lent is a golden opportunity for me to fill my life with more of what is truly important.
In that vein, some other young Jesuits and I will be writing daily reflections on the Spiritual Exercises during the forty days of Lent this year. The meditations are meant to be accessible to anyone from a prayer guru to a complete novice, and the format is flexible enough to work for someone who has only a few minutes on a train or a whole hour each morning. There are also great opportunities elsewhere on the web: reflections on the readings of the day and the readings for each Sunday, a number of charities worth supporting, and some good reflections on Lent and Holy Week more generally.
Like anyone who tries to impress the person they love, we want to show our dedication and do something difficult for God – and so we find something that’s challenging to give up. But the deeper challenge isn’t giving up coffee or chocolate or even, God forbid, Facebook, but rather embracing real, heartfelt change. Lent isn’t about particular outward observances but a contrite and sincere return to the Lord who will once again lead us to Easter joy.