A few weeks ago I was chatting with a Fordham student I had just met. Upon learning that I was a Jesuit, she asked, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I thought it was kind of funny that this was the first question out of her mouth especially, as I told her, I hadn’t really thought much about it. Now that Lent has arrived, the question is in the air, and people are already proclaiming their self-denials: chocolate, meat, coffee, dessert, Facebook, the internet, etc. I think this sharing of our Lenten practice is a fine—if sometimes a bit superficial—tradition. It is a reminder to us that giving up that one thing is a symbol of our desire to give up those things that get in the way of our relationship with God. We as Christians are called to take up our crosses, and this means having to give some things up. It is no good to have all that we can, or all that we want, if we lose our souls in the process.
So, kudos to all who choose to give up something for Lent! But beware of giving up things just for the sake of giving things up, or just so you can answer the question when asked (the “peer pressure” model of Lenten practice). Lent, it seems to me, is also invitation to go a bit deeper. To probe one’s depths to see what other things we need to give up, because they interfere in our relationship with God. For many if not most of us, these are Lenten sacrifices that we might not want to share with anyone who asks. These are things just between us and God, and maybe a few of those closest to us. They are not the stuff of casual conversation with someone you’ve just met. But like giving up chocolate can also result in losing a bit of weight, this deeper reflection and decision can help remove the great weights we have been carrying a long time out of habit, fear, indulgence or weakness. These are the idols that obscure God, which we can never seem to completely free ourselves from. But we can peel them away, a little bit at a time, giving some up, while others remain. Lent is a good time for such peeling.
So, along with that student’s question, “What are you giving up for Lent?”, comes God’s question to me, “What are you giving up for good?” This, I’m not going to share with you now, at least not this Lent. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do my best to answer it, for the sake of the One who asks.