A Pared-Down Lent

A Pared-Down Lent

It’s a little over a week since Ash Wednesday. How’s your Lent going so far? 

Every year I look forward to this season as a time for stepping back and re-evaluating who and what I am in the big picture of God’s creation. Sometimes I undertake big changes at this time: three years ago I decided to give up meat for Lent, and it was such a life-changing experience that I haven’t gone back. 

Other years it’s smaller stuff: one year I gave up wearing perfume, another, burning incense, and yet another time I wore the same pair of earrings throughout Lent. These, I know, sound like frivolous actions, but in the greater pantheon of things, they’re not. Each was something that brought me into a more disciplined and simple mindset; each small sacrifice made me focus less on the loveliness that flavors each day and more on what really is essential. 

This year I came onto my Lenten practice a bit late; I just wasn’t feelin’ it for the first few days. On the first Sunday of Lent, however, I was shopping in one of those large discount stores for dog food and a few other household items, when I became distracted by other bargains in the store. “Oooh, I have to have that; OMG, we really need this. Wow, look at the price; can’t pass that up!” Pretty soon my carriage was filled not only with what I needed, but with a bunch of other stuff that was just too good to pass by. 

Photo credit: graur razvan ionut

Then something that I heard that morning in the temptation story of Jesus in the desert stopped me in my tracks. What was I doing? Why was I buying all these other things that were not necessarily bad, but which I clearly did not need? (After all, temptation wouldn’t be temptation, would it, if there wasn’t some element of good contained within?) 

And then I came upon this year’s practice: buy only what I need. This is not a new idea. Catholic stewardship addresses the hierarchy of needs in a very solid and straightforward way. It’s just that putting it into practice here in the US of A when there’s just so much stuff to buy—well, it’s hard. 

But that’s what I’m practicing this Lent: buy nothing I don’t need. Even a few days into this mindset, it’s already a challenge. There have been at least five occasions so far where a food item seemed irresistable, a book looked really interesting (but would only raise the to-read pile a little higher), a skirt was such a deal and would go with everything I already owned. 

This practice isn’t going to make me rich, for sure. But what I hope it does, by observing a spirituality of necessity this Lent, is to better focus on the one true thing that matters: a right relationship with God and with the people around me. 

There is a lot of inspiration for simple living in the book, Mystics: 10 Who Show Us the Way of God, by Murray Bodo. Here are models for living a life motivated by prayer and contemplation, and centered in the love of God. 

What challenges are you facing with your Lenten practice—even if it’s simply not having one? 

photo credit: soilbedust and graur razvan ionut



About the Author

Mary Carol Kendzia is a product development director for Franciscan Media Books. She lives in Rhode Island, where she occasionally dips her toes into the Atlantic and reflects on the mysteries of life, among other things.
  • Cbryant

    I liked Mary Carol Kendzia’s approach to Lent. Can I add that sacrifice does not take the
    place of Sacraments? I mean, Mass and Communion, Penance or Reconciliation, whichever term
    you like, these are essentials for holiness.

    • Mckendzia

      So true; sacraments become even more important during Lent. Food for the journey.

  • Kathleen Blease

    St. Therese, the LIttle Flower, would love this post! Thanks, Mary Carol.

    Kathleen Blease
    Kathleen’s Catholic

  • John O’Neill

    Good for you, Mary Carol. I’m not doing so well with my Lenten resolution. That glass of dry red beckons every so often, and, on the tough days, I loose my resolve. In the meantime, I’m trying to make it up by doing works of mercy, especially with our parish council of SVdP.

    • Mckendzia

      John, I’m right there with you. And I’m not so much bothered by failing on resolve as I once was, because the grace comes in being able to start again — no matter how many times that happens!

      • servulus

        Agreed, I once read somewhere that the difference between saints and others is that when saints fall they immediately repent and strive again.

  • servulus

    This is a very good post, and touches upon something important for living out an authentic Catholic lifestyle: simplicity and why it is important. However, it is very important to remember that while making such resolutions as going without this or that, or not buying this or that is very important and should indeed be a facet of Lent, such things are ancillary. The core of Lent is prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The reason fasting is part of it is because it disciplines the senses of the body and the physical appetites. Fasting is not a part of Lent that can be done away with in favour of some other sacrifice. Fasting is not just a random choice but part and parcel of the asceticism found in Scripture and passed along by the host of early Christians and and masters of the spiritual life, specifically because in denying the body the spirit is strengthened and can tend toward the higher things. While one must not fall into a dualism between spirit and body one can neither neglect the necessity of subjecting the body and its appetites, as emphasized by St. Paul, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:14 The reason why fasting from food is so beneficial, is that the appetites resulting from the fall and our ongoing struggle with concupiscence have a hierarchy of desires. Where the foundational appetites, above all food and sleep, are disciplined and subjected so too are other movements of the flesh put in check. As Catholics we can not, without losing an important component of the spiritual life and our battle for the harmony between reason and the movements of the flesh, permit a reinterpretation of the purpose and mitigation of the importance of the worthy practice of fasting. To fast in solidarity with the world’s poor, or to live a more simple life and other such like reasons is all very laudable, but the primary reason we fast during Lent is to wage the battle that is within us, this is the battle we focus upon in Lent.

    • Mckendzia

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, and for the reminder of where the heart of our lenten practice should be centered.