By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A New Lent: Beyond Chocolate

"The Wilderness" - IsraelImage by wmrice via Flickr
Let's try something new for Lent, new at least to me who is not used to hearing much about the particular approach to Lent on which I focus here. First, let's look at some basics. "Lent" is from the Old English meaning "spring." So much for the unconscious image of Lent as somehow a dark season wrapping up the leftovers of a now dreary winter long past the bright beauty of the Christmas season.

Lent is a springtime of a renewal, not a dark abyss that we have to endure with gritted teeth. In Latin cultures, the season's name is derived directly from the Latin "quadragesima" (e.g., in Spanish "cuaresma") focusing, with impeccable logic, on its very biblical length of 40 days--40 years in the wilderness by Israel out of Egypt, 40 days by Jesus in the wilderness facing down Satan, the old Exodus repeated and surpassed by the New Exodus. The centrality of the number 40 recalls the great importance of the theme of the New Exodus in understanding the Hebrew and Christian Bibles.

ChocolateAs Catholics, we are very familiar with the practice of giving up some food in which we love to indulge--say chocolates or some other kind of mouth-watering treat. Who can argue with that? Yet, I have always found that exclusive focus to be a bit trivializing of the season. Rather, than just give up something "accidental" to our lives, something not too significant which we will take up again after 40 days, why not give up something that should be permanently abandoned--such as a part of our fallen personality?

After all, quadragesima is the season of repentance and conversion which means, if anything, abandoning some form of bondage and embracing liberation through Jesus--recreating and reliving the Exodus in our own personal lives. Why not give up permanently something bad for us, rather than just spiritually harmless bits of chocolate? Jesus' own 40 days of "Lent" involved permanently rejecting the temptations to power and ego proposed by Satan. If anything is a model for Lent, Jesus' own "Lent" surely is.

In the Gospels, Jesus often tells us not to be afraid, not to be anxious, not to worry. I, for one, will try to give up for Lent the tendency to worry too much, too think too fearfully about the future and about challenges. You may have something else that the Spirit leads you to abandon. Do it and make of this Lent something more than a temporary suspension of the dessert tray for 40 days. Other viable candidates to target for abandonment include pride, egotism, the lust for power and control, self-righteousness, legalism, greed, status-seeking, envy, hypocrisy, money-grubbing, indifference to past and present evils. There are many others waiting to be targeted. You know what they are.