Have you ever noticed that some of your non-Catholic, or non-Christian, friends seem to participate in Lent?
Like the celebration of Christmas or Easter, it seems like Lent is another religious tradition that gets taken up and celebrated in our ever-increasing secular society.
I first started questioning when a friend asked me about the best fish fries.
Are people more willing to participate in the sacrifice of meat abstention because it’s the one time each year that communities celebrate a common dining experience? Or does it have more to do with the ease of obtaining delicious seafood?
Consumerism even gets into the seafood spirit. Fast food chains begin offering fish sandwich deals. Restaurants highlight their seafood specialties.
And, certainly, non-Catholic friends recognize and accommodate our dietary restrictions. But surely it’s more than simply the local fish fry.
The 40-day construct of Lent, I think, also holds a certain appeal. Like the resolutions made for each new year, the expectation to reflect and change holds promise for our secular world. But unlike the daunting aspect of attaining and adhering to most new year’s resolutions, the sacrifice of a mere 40 days seems doable.
Perhaps this gets at the crux of the Lenten dilemma. When non-Christians hear that Lent is about giving something up or taking something on for a season, they see and hear a specific duration. But, following the tradition of our faith, it’s not really about time.
Lent is actually a call to change. It is a time of self-improvement, but for a greater good. We are called to recognize and confront our own sinfulness, our waywardness, our humanity. And in doing so, we are meant to return to the path of righteousness.
This is the aspect of Lent that often gets removed. Because it’s hard. Because it’s much easier to take on a social media “fast” or abstain from a favorite beverage or food.
Lent should be about so much more. Instead of counting down the days of Lent, to the celebration of returning to meat on Fridays and enjoying the indulgences of returning to whatever was sacrificed, what if we used these 40 days to start a habit?
And not only start that habit, but adhere to it. Not out of a sense of selfishness – we’re not talking about giving up sugar as a means to weight loss – but out of a sense of recalling our selves to the fold.
Maybe this Lent becomes a time for you to practice a greater sense of devotion. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that Catholicism goes beyond simply attending Mass on Sundays.
It’s also a way of life.
Or maybe this Lent reveals that your life has become too cluttered by the materiality of the world. Do we make enough space in our lives to not only hear God’s voice but also to act on his call?
Whatever these 40 days hold for you, make your Lenten sacrifice a true sacrifice. Eliminate those aspects that hold us back from our final redemption as we journey on the narrow path of devout faith.
Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at email@example.com.