I still remember the priest who preached the same homily every First Sunday of Lent. He actually used to give about four homilies repeatedly during the year but on the First Sunday of Lent, he preached another. It is a lesson I will never forget.
“So at the end of your life,” he would proclaim from the pulpit. “You stand before the throne of God and Our Lord asks you what you did with the time he gave you called Lent and you say: ‘I gave up candy.’ ” He would then rail against that discipline. A priest against giving up candy for Lent? Hey, you don’t have to tell me twice.
The point of the homily was simple. Lent is a time to draw closer to Christ and not to engage in mindless disciplines. A better example is actually the opposite. I was listening to Catholic radio the other day. I am not a fan of some of what I hear there.
The well-meaning host talked about using Lent to break a habit. As she continued, I thought the obvious. In that scheme, what is the difference between preparing a Lenten discipline or preparing a New Year’s resolution? Lent is not the time to plan to lose weight, go to the gym, exercise more or finally do your assigned reading. Lent is a time to deepen your prayer life and deepen your relationship with Christ and your neighbor.
I returned to the Church in 1980 on the First Sunday of Lent. Why? Well, my journey into worshipping the most nutritious drink known to the human race did not work out well. (I remember that discussion one night over one of many beers with my fellow drinking buddy in the late 1980’s. at the Navy Training Center, San Diego).
When Lent came, I realized, the most obvious discipline I can practice is to attend Mass on Sunday something I had not done in a few years. I gave up drinking two months later.
I walked into the church wearing jeans and a T-shirt and a jean jacket. Part of me was just almost daring someone to kick me out. No one did. The Mass itself was something the likes of which I did not remember from my time growing up in New England. You may know that Northeast Christianity is quite traditional. I was in Point Loma, a neighborhood of San Diego, California. Of course, there was that homily.
The point of Lent is to prepare yourself to celebrate Easter more powerfully. So, it is to come to a deeper understanding of who we are in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christianity is really anthropology. It is about understanding who we are from a cosmological perspective. I know that may sound like something out of a class on metaphysics but it is true. Read the prologue of John and notice the way it is written. It is not a list of how to live your life, it is a description of a new understanding of who we are.
Peter in John 6 explains that he will not abandon Christ as did five thousand others who just walked away because he says to Jesus: “You alone have the words to eternal life.” There is no understanding of whether Peter believed in eternal life prior to encountering Jesus.
You will notice on this page, my focus is not on printing a set of moral doctrines as the definition of Catholicism, it is rather on deepening our understanding of Christ and inviting others to do the same. Lent is a time to focus on doing just that.
Read a chapter a day of the Letters in the New Testament. Stay away from the Book of Revelation, leave that to a good study online elsewhere.
Learn the practice of contemplation, especially before the Blessed Sacrament. You can use YouTube to pray before live feeds of Eucharistic Exposition including from the Divine Mercy Chapel in Vilnius Lithuania and the Kolbe Shrine in Illinois, two feeds I use.
Read a good and honest history of the Church such as Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church by H.W. Crocker III.
In light of our turbulent times here in the United States consider reading The Long Loneliness by Dorothy Day, her autobiography up to the 1950s including the similarly turbulent times of the first half of the Twentieth Century. She gives a firsthand account of the protests over the death penalty carried out on Sacco and Vanzetti among many other accounts.
Then consider other ways to expand your horizons:
Engage in alternative sources of news such as Chris Hedges’ On Contact or Aaron Maté’s Push Back and other programs at the Grayzone, both available on YouTube. Subscribe to Matt Taibbi’s Substack account and get a deeper critique of American media. Get your news from non-mainstream media including those sources based off of US soil and in other languages, including the Vatican. This is to broaden your understanding of the world around you.
Of course, this is also a time of almsgiving, so be creative on how you give to charity. Look for the lesser-known charities that need assistance like programs to help foster creativity in the inner city.
Lent is coming soon, now is a good time to plan the practice and the outcome. Remember, this is about deepening your friendship with Christ and strengthening your life as a Catholic, it is not a second form of New Year’s resolution.
One other thing: eat all the candy you want.