Lenten Sacrifices A Lapsed Catholic’s Redemption

Even The Non-Religious Can Appreciate Self-Denial


Giving up ice cream, or anything else, for lent might not be easy, but you’ll probably be thanking yourself in the end. (Photo Illustration by Lisa Spiteri/The Observer)

Published: March 12, 2009

I am what some refer to as a “lapsed Catholic.” I am one of the rudderless horde that meanders through Lowenstein’s hallowed halls blissfully unconcerned with salvation or the observation of Catholic dogma. I was raised Catholic, but not really Catholic. For the most part, it was baptism, first communion, mass on Christmas and Easter and lent. Every year it was essential that I make a lenten sacrifice of some kind, though it didn’t really matter what it was, as long as it was something. Talk about a loophole. The first lent I can remember I gave up broccoli. When I was seven, it was homework. At eight, I ditched National Public Radio.

As I got older, though, I realized the importance of self-denial and sacrifice, so I began to give up some of the things that required the greatest discipline to go without. When I was nine, I gave up whiskey. I never drank whiskey as a nine year old, of course, but I could’ve snuck some if I had really wanted. When I was 10, I practiced abstinence for the whole  40 days. I wasn’t even physically capable of sex yet, and it was still miserable. Since then, I’ve tried to give things up for lent that I actually will miss, and when I do, I find that—“lapsed catholic” or not—making a lenten sacrifice feels pretty good.

You don’t need to be Catholic or religious at all to appreciate the value in denying yourself something you previously thought you couldn’t live without. It’s empowering to look back and say, “I set out to do something, I did it and now I’m going to eat four pounds of Hershey’s bars.” At the same time, if you fail in your lenten sacrifice, you may feel belittled and small. I find it’s best not to shoot too high, but also try not to shoot too low either. When I was in sixth grade, I vowed to give up “Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.” I cracked with four days to go. Freshman year in high school, I just barely got through without chocolate milk. While it seems like no sacrifice at all now, I gave up Taco Bell for lent my senior year. This meant eating alone at one of the other fast food places when I went out for lunch, even though my friends would more often than not hit up “The Bell.” The upside was that I regained my initial distaste for Taco Bell’s food.

The interesting thing is that I have no real recollection of denying these things to myself. I have no memory of thinking, “Oh man. I’m so pissed I can’t get a chicken quesadilla for lunch today,” or look back on my youth and think, “You know, I really shouldn’t have of given up “Zelda” for lent. That really messed up my whole childhood.” A lenten sacrifice is like a long bus or plane ride: it’s no fun when you’re on it, but it’s entirely forgettable how uncomfortable or tedious it was when you step off into someplace new.

So what am I giving up this year? It’s taken me a long time to figure it out, but I have decided to give up purposefully screening calls to my cell-phone. This is the kind of sacrifice that might just be a blessing in disguise when I decide to answer that “Restricted Number” call or the one with an area code from Alaska. But I realized this was not going to be as easy at 8 a.m. on day one: “Oh, I don’t want to talk to my Mom now”; “My boss? What does he want?”; “Oh man, not my ex-girlfriend!”; “Now why on earth is my middle school gym teacher calling?” But I stayed strong and answered all of them. What did they say? Well my Mom said she’s giving me her old car, my boss gave me a promotion, my ex said she should never have cheated on me and Mr. P wants to induct me into the school’s dodge ball hall of fame. Not too bad. Sometimes a little sacrifice is just what you need.