Oh, I know they're spelled differently -- lint, Lent -- one is a common noun that describes all that fuzzy stuff that comes off your clothes as they're being tumble dried. I have a very artistic friend who created gorgeous handmade writing paper out of dryer lint once. Lent, the proper noun, is that forty day period of fasting and abstinence before Easter, when Catholic and (some) Protestant Christians alike walk with Jesus, uniting with Him in His Passion and celebrating His resurrection while anticipating His second coming.
Lent is a time of year that I always look forward to, although upon reflection I'm not sure why: I'm not all that good at it. There was, for instance, that year I gave up Diet Coke as a personal sacrifice and by the third of the six weeks, my family members were all going around with big, frightened eyes and white faces. Then there was the time I gave up sweets and berated myself loudly one morning for having jelly on my toast. ("Don't you think you're taking this to a ridiculous extreme?" my husband asked warily. "No," I replied. "I'm just sad because, if I had to goof up on my no-sweets fast, why did it have to be with TOAST and why couldn't it have been NUTELLA?!?")
I also start out with great spiritual plans: I will read a chapter of the Bible per day, pray a rosary, go to weekday Mass on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, plus go to the Stations of the Cross at least three times. I'll do both the morning and evening prayers! I'll read at least two books on the lives of the saints (making sure to choose people who were not gruesomely martyred, because eww.) That's always the plan on Ash Wednesday, anyway. By the first Sunday, I've already managed to crumble, substituting one decade for an entire rosary and looking at my Bible and feeling guilty instead of actually opening it.
Considering all this, is it any wonder that a non-Catholic, non-Lent-participating Protestant friend asked me, "If Lent is so hard, why do it?"
Ah, there's the rub. Why do it? Why go through six weeks of self-denial and abortive attempts to attain spiritual growth?
Because it's good for the soul, that's why. Jesus taught us to fast; he fasted forty days in the desert. Jesus taught us about self-denial; he went to the cross for us. Jesus taught us about prayer; at times, he took himself apart from the disciples to spent time in communion with his Father. At other times, he prayed with them.
Any time we work to be more like him, Jesus meets us more than halfway. And then there's that spiritual harvest thing: the more you give Jesus -- your love of desserts, your willingness to meditate on his life while praying the rosary, your trip into the confessional, and the money you'd usually spend on buying a fancy coffee dropped quietly into the poor box -- the more he gives you back. Seriously, even when my grandiose plans for spiritual advancement fall through and I end up doing only about a quarter of what I originally intended, I always feel like the measure that has been pressed down, shaken together and running over by Good Friday. I feel close to Jesus (I can hear him saying quite clearly, "Okay. STOP IT" when I'm thinking about doing something that would not make him proud, one of the less agreeable parts of that Lenten Closeness.)
I feel good.
And when the Easter Vigil is over and we're driving home in the darkness with the sounds of the bells and the Gloria still ringing in our ears, that's when I feel the best. Exultant, as sweet and full as the Communion cup I've sipped from, glowing in the true presence of the Savior.
So let's just say that I've experienced Easter Sundays without the trials of Lent beforehand and with those trials set constantly before me, and I would never, ever go back to the first way. You can only have a true Easter, a real shiny-happy glorious Easter if you've humbled yourself to suffer with Jesus in the desert.
Ten years ago, I would have never thought that could possibly be true. I would have said, quite wrongly, that God has no need of our silly sacrifices. The pastor of the Protestant church I was attending back then even said it during one of his sermons: "I can't understand why those Catholics think that their 'giving up' something matters to God." How could it possibly matter to God, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, if I stop eating candy for six weeks? Does it really matter if I give up Facebook or watching HGTV? Doesn't that seem a little weird, to think that God cares about such trivial things?
If you believe that, then let me ask you this: If your ten year old mowed the neighbor's lawn for week after sweaty week and then used some of the money he earned to buy you a birthday present, would you find that trivial? Would you say, "Aww, that's sweet, son, but listen, this is just a Penguin paperback you bought with the money you earned from cutting Mrs. Franklin's grass. It's not like this is a real gift, but thanks for trying."
OF COURSE YOU WOULDN'T. If your kid did that for you, you would fall to the ground and drown in a puddle of happy tears and have to be revived by the emergency medical technicians who came on the ambulance and the first thing you'd say when you came back to your senses would be, "Look. Look at this beautiful, lovely Penguin paperback my darling child bought for me." You'd probably sleep with that book under your pillow for the next million nights, and long after it had crumbled into cheapo paperback dust, you'd remember that sacrifice, that unselfishness, that desire to do something to make you happy, that honor given to you that was so much more than a trivial gift that cost $9.98 at Wal-Mart.
And do you think God, the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being who told us to call him "Daddy," do you really think that he thinks anything less than that?
Try it and see.
A great article titled "What Can I Do Before Lent Begins" can be found here.
Catholic Culture.org has an entire area of their website devoted to the hows and whys of Lent; you can check that excellent resource out by clicking here
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