Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Joys of Catholicism

Happy Lent, everybody!

Oh, wait. Lent, like an alarming number of religious observances, is not a joyous occasion. (I think of Jon Stewart on the Daily Show one night when he and a guest were talking about different faiths and children and Jon said, "I'm Jewish and my wife's Catholic, and that means our children are...sad.") It's that 6 weeks every year where Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, honor Christ's love and sacrifice by repenting and punishing ourselves. The whole point, really, is to suffer for 40 days like Jesus did in the wilderness.

That's baffling, really. Even the time I gave up red meat for Lent, it wasn't exactly on par with the suffering of someone who walked in the desert for 6 weeks. I simply replaced the vice of bacon cheeseburgers with the vice of Snickers bars and the only ill effect that it had was that I became slightly anemic and couldn't give blood that spring. Not quite an earth-shattering, hell-rattling display of Godliness.

When I was newly Catholic, I was much more into it. After years of a sort of desert-wandering of religious soul-searching, I was thrilled that my new faith revolved around a very organized, predictable calendar with very structured rites and celebrations. I played by the rules because I was enchanted by the notion of rules to play by. I thrive on organization and structure and predictability; there's a reason I am a librarian.

But I have confession to make, and since it is the season for confessions, here goes: I'm no longer a fan of the whole "give something up for Lent" thing. And I'm not doing it this year.

Yeah, I know. I'm going to get my Catholic card revoked.

Here's how I look at it: 7 years ago, for nine months, I gave up alcohol and being thin and being able to get up out of a chair. A short time after that, I gave up growing hair, being able to enjoy the taste of food, and not feeling nauseated. (I have learned that the normalcy of not feeling nauseated is highly underrated; you don't realize how precious it is until a stomach virus or close encounter with strong medication takes it from you.) I may go to hell for saying this, but I feel in a lot of ways like I have paid my dues. I have done some penance.

This is not to say that I am above the human knack of sinning and that I'm not going to observe Lent. I just think that instead of giving up vices and denying myself the things that I enjoy, I should vow instead to do things that will stick beyond the 40 days of Lent, things that will make me a better person and my world a better place.

Because let's face it: if I were to give up chocolate, it's not going to make me a more Godly person. A thinner person perhaps, but not better. I actually think it would have the opposite effect: I'd become so grouchy no one could stand me and I would spread sheer misery wherever I went. I know I don't go to mass so much anymore, but I am pretty sure spreading misery is biblically discouraged.

Plus, life is short. If I were to get smacked by a large truck the day before Easter, I would not have wanted to get to heaven and be like, "Gee, it had been 39 days since my last Coke. That sucks."

I'd much rather be able to say, "In the weeks before I got hit by that truck, I gave money to my favorite charity and volunteered at the animal shelter. I planted a tree, I started recycling, I gathered up some of Ainsley's old toys and donated them to Goodwill. I did good things."

Ainsley yesterday told me what she's doing for Lent. She is being firmly indoctrinated at Catholic school and wants to give something up. At first, she said she was going to give up playing Mario Kart. I felt that was a little too much; playing Mario Kart a couple of hours on the weekend is one of the joys of her life. It was a touching gesture, but I urged her to think about whether that was something she really wanted to do without for 6 weeks. After all, you don't see me giving up Rock Band. Her decision: no.

But she is still giving up something pretty impressive for a kid: eating candy after dinner. She has a little bucket of candy she got at her school's Valentine party and from the birthday parties she has been to this winter. When she eats a good dinner, we let her pick a little treat. She has willingly decided to give that up. Bless her little heart. And bless her little stomach on Easter morning when all that pent-up candy love unleashes after lying dormant for 40 days and she eats and entire package of Peeps.

She's giving up treats, and I am going to try to give of myself and help our planet (the big thing I want to accomplish during Lent is to call our sanitation company and get on the list to recycle; I am embarrassed to admit that we as a family have not done this yet). For those of you of the Christian persuasion, are you giving up anything for Lent? Or are you, as some local churches are doing and as I have decided to do, going to do something good instead?


Robert K. said...

Hey, isn't trying to pick and choose which Catholic doctrines he wanted to follow what got Martin Luther in trouble? ;)

Karen said...

Yup, that darn Martin Luther. He was such a troublemaker. Cranky, don't go nailing anything to the bishop's door. ;)

DRoss said...

I'm attempting to give up Facebook for Lent this year. After months of, "I don't have time for this sh*t!" scoffing and ignoring Jen & Jon's invites, I caved. I was sucked down the rabbit hole with such a quickness that it disturbed me. So more in the interest of gauge-ing* my addiction level than of piety, I'm off it. God willing, until April 13. *(help me out here, spell-checkers)

And sounds like you're on the right track to me - with the adding something instead of giving something up. If the faithful are to look forward to spending an eternity in God's presence, God's got to be markedly different from the people Mark Twain described so well. To wit: "a solemn, unsmiling, sanctimonious old iceberg who looked as if he were awaiting a vacancy in the Trinity." Anyone ever share a church pew with one of those? Thought so.

Karen said...

Ohhh, DRoss, you're a strong, strong woman. I couldn't give up Facebook for lent. I think it might kill me. :)