My favorite part of going to the baseball park when I was younger was the Icee machine. My parents were always distracted and usually wouldn’t realize that I’d use the whole $5 they gave me on Icees.
It was another typical baseball game and all I could think about was grabbing an Icee. I sat down with my Icee, pretended to watch my brothers and reeled through, “It’s Lent. I gave up soft drinks. Does this count? I bet Mom would say it does. Is God mad at me? Is he getting more mad that I have to think about it?”
I took one more big sip, then blurted out as if I’d just realized it, “Oh no!”
“What?” my mom asked.
“Well, I gave up soft drinks for Lent and totally forgot and I got an Icee … and I’m really sorry.”
“That’s OK, just throw it away,” she said as she kept her eyes fixed on the game.
“OK, I’ll throw it away, but am I going to hell?” I thought as I walked to the trash can.
Lent and the motivations behind it can bring up unique issues in our commercialized culture. Is our guilt over breaking Lent a healthy, Christ-centered guilt? At what point does our Lenten fast become just another juice diet?
Lent can easily drift into a selfish mandate that we use as an excuse to be thinner, healthier or more active. Buying into the belief that Lent is a time for Christians to demonstrate their love for Christ is a destructive paradigm and will only perpetuate the consumer’s Lent.
“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades …” said Pope Francis, Time Magazine’s person of the year for 2015. “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”
This, he said, is the heart of the Lenten season.
If we believe this and believe that this is the heart of the Lenten season, then there’s no room for the guilt associated with the consumer culture’s Lent.
If we give up a food group for Lent or get in on the gluten-free trend for the sake of feeling better about ourselves, when we fall short, all we are left with is guilt. Self-centered guilt is guilt that is inevitably followed by more self-indulgence. This is why my 10-year-old Icee crisis led me to think only of the implications for myself.
“What does this mean for me?” is the cry of the American commercialized church.
This is what we must battle. Lent, in my opinion, is a pretty accurate microcosm of how the American church has perverted Christianity – taking something that’s supposed to be self-sacrificial and finding a loophole to ensure it will benefit ourselves.
“How’s God going to help me?”
Or, what seems better, “How can I help God?”
This is not the most important question to ask as, once again, it turns the lens toward ourselves.
“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great,” Francis said.
Allie Matherne is a junior public relations and English double major from Lafayette, La. She is a reporter and regular columnist for the Lariat.