Lent is about more than just ‘giving something up’

By Jenna Fitzgerald | Assistant News Editor

It’s that time of year.

A few weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday, a handful of students and professors walked to class with cross-like ashes on their foreheads. Every Friday, church congregations gather for routine communal fish fries. Today, people are around the halfway mark of their 40-day sacrifice of social media, chocolate, fast food or whatever it is they decided to give up this year. But the liturgical season is so much more than ashes and fish and social media cleanses. So much more.

Lent is a period of preparation for the Triduum and Easter, which is, quite literally, a celebration of the saving miracle of our world. What practices could be worthy of preceding such a holy time? What practices should be worthy of preceding such a holy time?

Giving something up seems to be the most popular answer. Our society has become obsessed with the idea — so much so that “What are you giving up for Lent?” has become the hallmark question of the liturgical season. So, a couple days before it begins, people sit down, run through a list of their bad habits or overindulged luxuries, decide what they can survive without and start announcing it to their friends and family. That should do the trick, right?

Absolutely not.

Lent is not a second chance for the New Year’s resolutions you failed to stick to in January. Lent is not about (briefly) staying off Instagram or (briefly) depriving yourself of M&Ms or (briefly) avoiding the Whataburger drive-thru. Lent is not a secular season — stop making it one.

I’ve been Catholic my entire life. In the dozen or so years that I’ve tried to participate in Lent by giving something up, I’ve seen absolutely no spiritual fruits blossom from my sacrifice. After all, what profound religious transformation could have possibly come from me removing soda from my diet? It was silly to think that such a short-term material change — without being accompanied by significant self-reflection — could have any benefit on the well-being of my soul.

This year, I opted for a new practice instead: saying a rosary every day. It forces me to intentionally carve out time for quiet and contemplative prayer. It lets me step away from the chaos of everyday life. It helps me to focus on preparing for the Triduum and Easter.

I cannot overstate the difference in peace I have experienced this year in comparison to years past, and I don’t think I need to explain why.

In the Catholic Church, Lent is characterized by the three pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, providing us with an opportunity for true spiritual growth. These pillars remind us we are meant not just to abstain from certain habits or luxuries, but to have a genuine change of heart, to become more holy, to prepare a place in our souls where Christ can dwell.

So, amid the ashes and the fish and the social media cleanses, dive deep into these last few weeks of Lent. In my experience, more often than not, giving something up is a cop-out to avoid real self-reflection and authentic participation in the liturgical season — and trust me, we’re all guilty of it.

But whether you gave something up this year or not, take advantage of the remaining time to think about whether your Lenten practices are bearing spiritual fruits, and adjust accordingly.

Let us ready ourselves for the Triduum and Easter with quiet souls and joyful hearts.