“That’s that Catholic thing.” “You’re Catholic, right? What did you give up for Lent?” “You know, you’ve got something on your forehead.”
For many people, Lent is that thing that Catholics (those weird people) do before Easter. It has something to do with the black smudge on their foreheads that appears somewhere in late February or early March, and is generally associated with not eating chocolate. Ironic, as this is the time that Easter candy (chocolate, chocolate, peeps, and more chocolate) starts to appear on grocery store shelves. It’s like they’re trying to torment us.
You may be thinking, “This is great, but I’m not religious.” “This isn’t for me.” “I don’t like Catholics.” “I started reading this blog because of the feminist posts!” Bear with me for a few more paragraphs, please.
If you watched the video, or maybe you knew this already, the three big components of Lent are “prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.” Even if you’re uncomfortable with Jesus, God, the Catholic Church, or all of the above…I bet you can still find something meaningful for your life from these things.
Prayer. Prayer is a touchy subject these days. We may not even want to talk to God, if we even acknowledge His existence. Being an atheist or an agnostic is seen as enlightened. But, how many of us take even a few minutes every day to shut off all our electronics, close out the outside world, and just be? A great saying I’ve heard recently (but can’t remember where, so I can’t properly attribute it) is “You’re a human being, not a human doing.” Take a few minutes just to sit, and maybe even give thanks for your life. Pause for a moment before you eat and be grateful for the people who harvested the plants, packaged the food, shipped the food, grew the food, raised the animals, killed the animals – and even for the animals who gave their lives (however unwillingly) so that you could eat this meal. Add a few minutes of gratitude to your day, and see how that changes things.
Fasting. This is the whole “giving up” thing. As ironic as it may seem to some, fasting is about freedom. We’ve all heard friends say “I can quit any time I want to.” Fasting is about being able to say that and have it be completely true. It’s about giving up the addictions in our lives, so that we’re not controlled by them. How many of us really want to lose that extra ten pounds but can’t help ourselves when we see candy bars by the cash registers in the grocery store? Or how many of us truly believe that we can’t function before our first cup of coffee in the morning? [Check back for a post later this week on caffeine addiction and energy.] Can any of us get through a day without Facebook? Fasting is about freeing ourselves from attachments so that we can be more of ourselves. Margaret Silfe writes in Inner Compass, “Choices become habits, and habits become character.”
Almsgiving. We assidously avoid people who ask us for money. We turn away from homeless people on the streets, we ignore junk mail from charities asking for money, we ignore telemarketers. Realistically, it’s not possible to give money to everyone who asks. For many of us, even if we gave our entire salary to charity, it would only be a small drop in the bucket. The point of almsgiving is to give to those who need it. $10 may mean that maybe we don’t buy soda at the store this week, or those extra snacks. For someone in a developing country, that $10 might make a huge difference. My father gave money to a number of charities – not very much, somewhere between $15 – $50 – but he gave to charities that he believed in. So, regardless of your religious beliefs, I urge you to find a cause or an organization that you believe in, and make a donation, no matter how small. It’s the act of giving that counts, not the amount.
If you need ideas, or suggestions, here are two of my favorites:
Heifer International. I love Heifer International. They don’t give food; they give livestock and teach families how to care for them. For example, you can donate a flock of chicks. This flock now provides eggs and meat for the family. They can earn money by selling eggs, and once their flock expands they can sell more chickens to other people in their community. It’s the whole “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he’ll never go hungry again” philosophy.
Central Asia Institute. I recently read the book Stones Into Schools by Greg Mortenson, who also wrote Three Cups of Tea. This organization builds schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, in some of the most forbidding and unreachable places on earth. They work with communities so that the schools built are their schools, not some Western school. And a condition of CAI’s building the school is that half of all students must be girls.
So, regardless of where you stand on religion or the Catholic Church, I hope you take these last few weeks of Lent for some reflection and for your interpretation of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. May you be calmer, freer, happier, and closer to who you want to be.