Yesterday morning I took a little detour on my mile-long walk to work and stopped at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Despite being dwarfed by the skyscrapers that surround it, the cathedral cuts a majestic figure, all towering Neo-Gothic spires and stained glass. It takes up an entire city block on its own; more than 3,000 people can find solace in its pews. Once inside, I joined a quick-moving line of city dwellers and tourists, all marveling at the intricate statues and prayer stations along the walls. Then it was my turn—a smiling priest dipped his thumb in dark ash, from palm fronds blessed last Palm Sunday, and rubbed it on my forehead in the shape of a cross. Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return. It was Ash Wednesday, and Lent had officially begun.
Lent, a period often described as (but not always literally) lasting for forty days, leads up to the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead on Easter. There’s fasting (no meat on Ash Wednesday or on Fridays), atonement (via confession and prayer), and the donation of money or time to the less fortunate. Catholics try with renewed vigor to connect with God through prayer and sacrifice: it’s common to “give up” something that you enjoy, specifically a sinful habit or a vice you want to curb. As a kid, I always gave up biting my nails—until I didn’t really bite them anymore. After that I usually picked a dessert food: cake, cookies, ice cream, potato chips. One year I renounced fast food. But these days I rarely snack on pastries unless I’ve baked them myself or know they’re not loaded with additives, and I almost never eat fast food. It took some brainstorming to decide on a Lenten promise for 2016, but I eventually settled on two, one physical and one mental.
First, my remaining bad food habit: bingeing on snacks at nighttime when watching TV. Often I’ll feel so proud of how I ate during the day—yogurt and fruit for breakfast, nuts as a midmorning snack, a salad for lunch, a little dark chocolate and a coffee as a midafternoon snack, and finally a home-cooked dinner—but then when I get home I’ll pull out the gummy bears, the sour worms, the licorice, the chocolate-dipped figs. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat that kind of stuff in moderation, but lately it seems I pop open those bags more often than not. So, for Lent, I will give up eating candy at night when I get home from work.
Second, I want to be slower to criticize and to try harder to think positive. I don’t think I complain an undue amount, but I’ll sometimes snap when annoyed without forethought about my words or my delivery. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of a situation, I’m going to attempt to find the silver lining in everything. Standing on crowded subway train? At least that will wake me up a little bit more than sitting would have. Working late? At least I get along with my coworkers and have a boyfriend who will pick me up.
I’m not sure I’ll succeed completely, but I’ll try my best, and I’m sure God will appreciate my effort. Hopefully I can learn from the next forty days, instill into my life new ways of thinking and being that will carry forward even after Easter.
What are you giving up for Lent? How else do you celebrate the season?