Sunday, March 9, 2014


Today is the first Sunday in Lent. When I was growing up, my third generation Irish-American Catholic daddy gave up whiskey and my mother gave up chocolates. They laid their sins of the flesh on the altar and white knuckled it for forty days and forty nights.

I sacrificed, too, whatever I loved best at the time, to show Lord Jesus that a third grader, a fifth grader, a ninth grader could suffer in remembrance of his Great Sacrifice. In the early years of my childhood I gave up dessert or Coca-Cola. One year I gave up bickering with my brothers. I assure you, that was no easy task because they could be such bullies.

Another year I thought about giving up gossiping, but  honestly, I can't remember if I actually went through with it. And I would remember because it would have caused an angst that would have been seared in my memory. I was a freshman in high school, and gossip had enormous social cache.

The hardest was giving up cigarettes my junior year in college. I was a journalism major and we smoked in class, peering through the smoky haze as our fingers pecked out stories on Royal typewriters. Trust me, surrounded by the pungent second hand smoke, it was a sacrifice. But the good news is that I didn't pick them up after church on Easter morning. In fact, I didn't smoke for almost two months. But  then final exam time rolled around, and I bought a pack of Marlborough and blew smoke to fight the stress.

People still "give up" their vices for Lent, but nowadays the idea has expanded to more than giving up shortcomings. The extra step is to replace them with virtues. For example, a friend of mine has decided to curb her self-centeredness by listening to others, without judgment, with her heart's ear. In a city with four million people, it's easy to get lost in the crowd, to be anonymous and heartbreakingly lonely, so I think my friend's Lenten practice is more than selfless--it's truly inspiring. She is a prayer in action.

There are others who are volunteering at the Houston Food Bank, or being their brothers' keeper by helping returning veterans to re-enter society, or advocating for children, the wounded victims in domestic violence.

Lent is more than doing without, more than fighting the pull of carnal hunger, more than 40 days of sobriety.

Growing up as a  child, how did you celebrate the Lenten season? How, now that you are an adult, will you celebrate this season?