Give and Take: An Exercise for Lent

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Lent is upon us, which means two things for Catholics: Fish Filet sandwiches and friends or family asking what we are giving up. This year, in addition to giving up something, I’ve also decided to take something up – writing a book of hours for my unborn daughter who is due in May. In the spirit of Lent, I wanted to write specifically to converts about giving something up, and also about taking up something for Lent as well.

Give up something for Lent

It can be a real challenge to decide what to give up for Lent. On the one hand, it can be seen as lazy to give up something that is ‘easy’ to give up, e.g. I don’t watch much television, so for me, there isn’t much involved in giving up television while others may find this more difficult. On the other hand, if giving up something is too burdensome, there is a real fear of failure and you don’t want to set yourself up to fail. For this reason, I would (generally speaking) not recommend giving up caffeine if you are a 2-pot-of-coffee per day drinker, or giving up smoking if you are a pack-a-day kinda guy/gal.

With the potential to give up something too easy or too difficult, it is all about keeping in mind why you are making a sacrifice. As a rule, if I give something up, I want that to accomplish one of two things; I want it to either remind me of the sacrifice God made every time it crosses my mind, or I want the substitute to draw me nearer to God.

In the past I have given up all music except for Gregorian Chant. I have a 30 minute commute twice a day, and music is a big part of my drive, so giving up all music except for Gregorian Chant allowed me the opportunity to spend my time in the car in quiet contemplation and prayer. I also have given up caffeine, and by given up I mean limited myself to one caffeinated beverage per day. Typically I would have this with lunch, and then the rest of the day every time I would desire a Coke or coffee I would remind myself of the sacrifice and say a prayer. It is all up to the individual as to what they are comfortable with being capable (and I emphasize being truly capable) of giving up, and to what end will it assist them in their stride towards holiness.

Here’s a couple of things you might be interested in giving up for Lent if you haven’t decided on something already: Limiting caffeine, limiting smoking, secular music, television, radio, video games, warm showers, elevators, social media (except Epic Pew), junk food, swearing, procrastinating, going out to eat.

Take up something for Lent

While the above suggestions for what to give up during Lent certainly aren’t to be dismissed, some may also wish to develop a skill during Lent, or take up a challenge to grow in their faith. For those who desire to take something up below are a few ideas.

  • Visit your local Cathedral
    Cathedrals are named for the “throne” which occupies them, normally the seat of the Bishop of the diocese and as such they are typically the most beautiful, and grandiose Churches in the Catholic Church. Make it a point to visit your local Cathedral during Lent, even if its only to say a few prayers and explore the area a bit. A list of Cathedrals can be found here.
  • Read the Summa
    Reading through the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, broken up into ‘questions’ is a great way to grow in your faith. Be prepared for some deep reading, but if you were to start with Book one, you would read through the section on “Sacred Doctrine”, “The One God”, and “The Blessed Trinity”, all by the end of Lent. After Lent you can keep pace or slow down a bit, but its a great way to start reading Aquinas for those who have wanted to but never taken the time to do so.
    The Summa can be found for free at here.
  • Go to Mass daily
    I have run into very few Parishes that don’t offer daily Mass. If the Church you regularly attends does so, but the times conflict with when you can make it, look at other Churches in the area and see if they have times that work for you. Daily Mass is a great way to grow in your faith, receive the Sacraments, and make a point to go to confession more often.
  • Learn new prayers
    Keep a sheet in your pocket with new prayers on it and if you have given up something for Lent, every time you think of desire what you have sacrificed read your sheet of prayers. Some prayers to include: Hail, Holy Queen, Regine Caeli, The Angelus, Prayer to Saint Michael, Holy Sprit Prayer of Saint Augustine.
    Another alternative is to learn the prayers you commonly say in Latin as well. Known as the language of the angels, it’s a great way to draw nearer to God and learn some Latin at the same time. They can be found here.
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