Happy Ash Wednesday. As I mentioned in an "Of Many Things" column a few years ago, an in an NPR piece, my Lenten sacrifices come to me from a Jewish friend named Rob, with whom I roomed in college, and his family. At the time, my mostly Jewish friends (meaning that most of my friends were Jewish, not that they were mostly Jewish) heard that one’s Lenten penances were self-imposed. "That’s not hard!" they said, quite reasonably. "You should let us give you some." So they did. The next Ash Wednesday, then, which came during my junior year in college, I gave up Sunkist soda, to which I had a "disordered attachment," as St. Ignatius would say, and Sno-balls, the coconut and chocolate pastries that were part of my nourishing college diet. (My nourishing college diet consisted of Sunkist, Sno-balls and beer). Since then my friend Rob (and now his wife and son) have continued the tradition religiously, and call me every Ash Wednesday, without fail, with my "penance," which has settled into one sweet, one spice and one foodstuff. After 25 years, it’s getting hard to find new stuff, and they don’t like to repeat. This year I’m to forego fruit rollups, tabasco sauce and coleslaw. Actually the last one will be hard. (I also impose my own penances on myself, in addition to Rob’s: I’m going to try to pray more this Lent, which will be more enjoyable than not eating cole slaw but probably more of a challenge!)
If you can’t bear the thought of giving up any of those things, scoot on over to Bustedhalo’s feature for Lent, called "Fast, Pray, Give," where they use the "Advent calendar" model of moving through the liturgical season, and provide some great reflections and help you find what might be called some positive penances.
It’s a Lenten plan they call "unflunkable." As long as Sno-balls are still available.
James Martin, SJ