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What should I give up for Lent?

| Thursday, March 2, 2017

This is the eternal question that has plagued centuries of good Catholic boys and girls. A lot rides on what you decide to abstain from, after all. Back in grade school, I would proudly announce my brave sacrifice for that year — most likely candy, pop or fighting with my brother — to my classmates, expecting them to be in awe of my courage and dedication to our Lord. I made sure my friends and family knew just how hard it was to be a devoted Catholic.  Inevitably, a week or two later, I’d have to come up with excuses for my brother or parents as to why there were candy wrappers crumpled up in my pockets — someone littered, and I was just doing my civic duty and picking it up! I swear!

It hasn’t gotten much easier throughout the years. Even though I went to a public high school, and the competition amongst classmates all but disappeared, I still had my Irish-Catholic family to deal with. Family parties were considerably less fun when each of us cousins gave up sweets and fighting with siblings, thus eliminating virtually all sources of entertainment at the gatherings.  Once I got to Notre Dame, I was thrust right back into the ring of competitive Lenten Sacrifice — only now the kinds of things given up had changed slightly. Abstaining from soda had become limiting one’s drinks in a given night, and giving up candy now meant vowing not to consume two or three bowls of frozen yogurt at the dining hall every day. Last year, I made the noble, but ultimately futile, attempt to give up the elevator for 40 days. I started off strong, but inevitably, the effort of living on the fourth floor and carrying laundry up five flights of stairs wore me down, and I whispered a quick prayer of forgiveness as I shamefully pressed the elevator button.   

Given the complete failure of last year’s Lenten promise, I’m in the market for a new one this year. Maybe the key is not so much physically giving up something, but instead promising to work on some part of my character. Instead of looking down at the ground with an unintentional scowl on my face as I walk past freshmen in my section after a long day, I can make the effort to smile and give a quick hello. Rather than getting impatient with my roommate when she wants to talk about her day or a problem she’s having and I’m exhausted, I will remind myself that she’s been there for me and sometimes, all you need is just someone to listen. Next time my mom calls, I can resist the urge to hang up on her mid-sentence, and instead allow the woman who birthed me a few of my precious minutes, especially because I know the few precious calls she gets with me are the brightest moments of her otherwise dull and gray life.

On a more serious note, one Lenten routine that I can proudly say I have kept up throughout the years is the practice of taking a minute every night during Lent to say a quick prayer, or to just reflect on my life in general. In the end, as we’ve all been told millions of times, the purpose of Lent is to remember the sacrifice that was made for all of us, and to live accordingly. I love that I go to a school where this is taken so seriously, and that the only peer pressure I feel here is to find the best possible way to sacrifice and reflect this Lent. With this in mind, I’m open to suggestions from my fellow young Catholics for this Lent that do not involve quitting beer or hiking 20 flights of stairs a day.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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