This year’s Lenten act

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras, which means that Ash Wednesday is in two days, and as any good Catholic knows, Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent.

I struggle each year with Lent. It’s struggle I’ve had for at least the last 15 years or so. I even discussed it at great length with my mother on numerous occasions.

I think the concept of sacrifice during Lent is still valid. I think the practice began with good intentions, only to be watered down over the years. I know people who give up chocolate for Lent every year. I used to, too, when I was much younger and before I really started to try to understand the Catholic faith.

Giving up something like chocolate seems trivial. Chances are, it’s not something you eat every day – and if you do eat it every day, you probably should consider cutting back on it, anyway. I’m more impressed with people who give up their time, something truly valuable and irreplaceable, and devote that time to helping the less fortunate. Rather than giving up something like wine (I’m not a big drinker) or potato chips (I ought to cut back, anyway), I think it is more meaningful to spend an hour a week volunteering at a shelter – or even an hour simply cleaning my closet of old (but still useful) clothing to donate to a shelter!

You know what else I don’t do for Lent? I don’t fast or abstain from meat. Oh, and I was certainly raised Catholic, too. Moreover, as a young Catholic, I was taught the history of fasting and abstinence during Lent (all sacrificial), and let me just say that I think too many Catholics use their observance of Lenten Fridays as an excuse to go out for sushi or lobster dinners – hardly sacrificial at all. It would be like being told that you can’t sleep in your house one night a week, so you’d book a room at the Plaza, instead. If that were the case, I’d be lobbying the Catholic Church to extend Lent for the entire year, not just 40 days.

Lent is a solemn period in the Church calendar. It is a time for inward reflection, particularly of the spiritual kind. It is about reaffirming your religious beliefs in word and deed. It is about cleansing your soul so that you would be found worthy of the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross. And above all, it is about sacrifice.

And giving up fast food or french fries or pedicures for Lent (all things I’ve given up in the past) hardly qualifies as sacrifice.

So this year, I’m taking a cue from something I found on Pinterest and followed back to its original source: The 40 Trash Bag Challenge. The idea is to fill a bag (any size you want, but it ought to be consistent) with, well, stuff. Most of us have too much stuff, anyway. I’m no stranger to decluttering, after all, and my closet could use a good purging, so this challenge is right up my alley.

Even though it’s not much of a sacrifice (since I really ought to be doing this anyway), the 40 bags I fill will remind me daily that it’s not stuff that makes me happy, nor is it the accumulation of it. Rather, it’s the people in my life who bring me real joy.

And if I can get The Boy to fill a bag of his own during this period, that would be even better.

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