As Lent begins, it’s time to look inward

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By Vince Luekce

Lent is here and while not everyone’s religious tradition observes the 40-day period before Easter, most of us at least acknowledge its arrival.

It’s also true that not everyone follows the pattern of “giving up something” for Lent, just as most of us don’t kick up our heels in Mardis Gras style before Ash Wednesday’s arrival. At least I didn’t Tuesday. 

When it came to Lent, I grew up in an observant household where Ash Wednesday and the subsequent Fridays of Lent meant salmon patties, cod squares, tuna salad and catfish. 

I can still recall the smell of fish each Friday and going to church for Stations of the Cross services. I guess the memories are most fond because life seemed simpler and maybe even better back then.

One of the benefits of being a child in a good home is not knowing just how the world works, at least its challenging parts.

I try to keep many of those Lenten traditions, such as abstaining from meat on Fridays and going to church at least a little more often. 

In fact, I’m going to do my best this Lent to avoid meat altogether. I succeeded a few years ago and shed quite a few pounds. I’m determined to stick to the vow. 

I also try to be a little more giving with time and money. Instead of throwing my spare change into a cookie jar for some future splurge, I save it during Lent and give it to some charity that helps the hungry. I’m sure many other churches do the same thing.

There are local ways of doing the same thing. I know friends who eat out most Friday evenings. During Lent, however, every other week is supper at home and they take what they otherwise would have spent and give it to a local charity. They’ve done that for many years. 

Many years ago, when I was curious Jesuit novice I stumbled upon an old box filled with metal stands. I had no idea what they were but an old Jesuit said they were cilices, worn around the waist as a penitential rite. Unlike crazy movies such as the Da Vinci Code that showed a fictitious spiked chain cilice, the ones I found had very small barbs meant to irritate the skin, not break it. I wore one for a day out of curiosity and never used it again.

None of us need to punish our bodies to reflect on the season of Lent and the need to amend our lives, atone for wrongs and help others. 

As with Ash Wednesday’s symbolic smudging or sprinkling of ashes, is also a time to remember our mortality, even as spring faintly approaches. 

In some traditions such as the one I grew up with, the priest or deacon sprinkles or smudges ashes with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” That’s not the cheeriest of reminders about the death each of us faces, but it’s a reality we can’t run from.