Lenten reflections

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James O’Toole, Contributing  Writer

It is now three weeks past Ash Wednesday, and what began as Lenten sacrifices may fast be becoming real penances. The Ash Wednesday enthusiasm may be quickly wearing off, and with each day that chocolate bar may be looking oh, so tempting.

I would like to encourage you to stay strong. If you have made it this far, it will only get easier to live without whatever it is you have chosen to sacrifice. For all those who have caved – especially those who slipped up in the first few days – this is a great opportunity to find a new sacrifice to make for Lent.

Although research has not been definitive, there is a general belief that it takes about 21 days to break a bad habit. Moreover, it is believed that it takes about 40 days to break a habit and then form a new one in its place. So if you are continuing in your original Lenten penance, this may be a good time to try to form a new habit. Theology professor Dr. Andrew Glicksman says this of the season:

“Lent is a good time to remember that we fill our time and lives with material things and other distractions that we think are necessary to live, but really aren’t. Lent is a time to let go of the non-essentials that sometimes rule our lives, and to develop our relationship with God and with others (in more substantive ways than on social media and by texting) … And hopefully, after 40 days, those non-essentials will have less power over us and some of these good habits will become a more integral part of our daily living.”

So hold off on that candy bar for now!

This upcoming week will be a busy one for students, filled with exams and crammed study sessions. Perhaps try to keep a stricter schedule to manage studies and sleep.

“Rather than giving something up,” English professor Father Robert Maguire counsels, “one can choose to do something extra for the sake of charity or for self-discipline. What counts is the attitude with which one does it.”

Indeed, junior Ambrose Stearns adds, “Lent can be a vessel for man to focus on what it really means to be man and how to come closer to his natural end.”

Lent is not necessarily about who can carry the heaviest cross – although it does sound awesome to brag about eating only one meal a day or sleeping on a tile floor.

This positive aspect of Lent cannot be emphasized enough. Lent is more about making daily spiritual or moral progress than about the size of one’s sacrifice.

Father James Oberle of the theology department notes that Isaiah said that fasting in Israel often ended in quarrelling and strife (Isaiah 58:4). Moreover, he points out, “It is key to ask ourselves, ‘Why did we start our Lenten penance?’ If the answer continually returns to ‘so I could look good in a bathing suit during spring break,’ we may want to reconsider our motives.”

So choose a Lenten penance – just something simple. As Stearns aptly puts it, “It doesn’t have to be a huge sacrifice, but it should be something that is a recurring reminder of where your mind should be focused.” Pick something meaningful to you and then embrace whatever you take up – be it a schedule or prayer life, or steering clear of sugar or coffee.

“The word ‘lent’ in Anglo-Saxon means springtime – the time of renewal,” explains Father Maguire. “It is a time of renewal in preparation for Easter – the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection and the ultimate renewal of our humanity at the end of time.” This is your opportunity to find internal and external health.

And who knows, maybe while sacrificing those candy bars for God, you will later find that you look all the more stunning at the beach on spring break.

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