40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #40 LENT

We Catholics have been taking a lot of heat lately.  As Philip Jenkns wrote in his book The New Anti-Catholicism-The Last Acceptable Prejucice, our society sees nothing wrong with anti-Catholic bigotry.  In fact, our secular media participate in it and encourage it.  In an interview on EWTN, Cardinal Timothy Dolan pointed out that he’s often the target of the media because, according to them, he mixes religion and politics.  The Cardinal wondered why similar criticism isn’t made about Reverend Jesse Jackson, Reverend Al Sharpton, or even Reverend Martin Luther King.

I thought it would be interesting to write a series of posts during Lent outlining 40 reasons why it’s cool to be Catholic.  Bishop Fulton Sheen once said that no one actually hates the Catholic Church but that millions of people hate what they THINK the Catholic Church is.  Hopefully over the next six weeks we can take a look at who we really are and why it’s incredibly cool to be Catholic.

Since today is the First Sunday of Lent, I thought I’d start with an obvious one.  LENT

C’mon, Deacon, what’s cool about Lent?  We have fast and abstinence and penance.  How is that cool?

Let’s start with a couple of basic truths.  First, Jesus Christ died for our sins.  He came down to earth, became man, lived for just 33 years, and was tortured and crucified for His trouble.

Second, He often withdrew from the crowds of followers to fast and pray.  Prior to His Passion, He spent 40 days in the desert praying, fasting, and jousting with the devil.  Again, He did this for you and me.

Our natural tendency when someone does something for us is to return the favor.  But, how can we repay someone who did so much for us?  The answer is that we can’t.  One way we try is through the practices of the season of Lent, but our meager sacrifices can’t begin to approach what Christ did for us.

Let’s look at this in human terms.  Say you have a young child.  Maybe she’s five years old.  Obviously as a parent you provide her with everything including life itself.  How can this little girl pay you back?  Maybe she likes to draw.  She proudly presents you with a drawing that she’s done just for you.  Maybe, if you’re lucky and she’s having a good day, you recognize what she’s drawn.  Maybe not.  But she’s done her best, she’s very proud, and you smile.  Maybe you even shed a tear because you know she’s given it her all and she’s done it for you.  Isn’t that how it is between us and Jesus?  He knows we can’t do what He did.  Like the little girl in our story, we just don’t have the ability.  But, we try.

Jesus went into the desert and fasted for FORTY DAYS.  For almost six weeks He had nothing to eat.  In the forty days of Lent, we fast twice; on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  How do we fast?  We limit ourselves to one full meal and two small meals with nothing in between.  There seems to be a little difference between Jesus’ fast and ours.  But, you and I can’t go without food for 40 days.  We’d starve to death.  So we symbolically fast for two days out of the forty.  (Actually Good Friday isn’t part of Lent, but that’s another story for another day.)  Like children emulate their parents, we emulate Jesus.  And how proud are you, as a parent, to see your little one doing something that looks like something that you do?

Jesus prayed for those forty days.  Most of us have jobs, and families, and other responsibilities.  We just can’t drop everything and pray nonstop for a month and a half.  What do we do?  We do the best that we can.  We pray in the morning.  We pray in the evening.  Maybe we go to mass more often.  Maybe we say the rosary every day or go to stations of the cross once a week.  None of this stuff comes close to what Jesus did for us.  But He doesn’t want us to do what He did.  He wants us to do the best that we can.

Then there’s penance.  We’re asked to do penance during Lent.  Some folks give up a favorite food or beverage.  Some give up television, or water skiing, or some other pleasure.  But the idea is to do something that improves ourselves, while giving glory to God.  What you do is between you and God.  Nobody else needs to know.  While the required penance is a wonderful thing, it’s what you do on your own that really makes a difference.

So, to get back to the original question, Lent is cool because it’s our chance to show God how much He means to us.  We may try to do that every day of the year, but in Lent, the Church gives us a special time to kick it up a notch.  Church is decorated a special color.  Bulletins and homilies are focused on the season.  We’re reminded once a week, on Friday, that we’re in a special time of year.  You’re not going to hell if you eat a cheeseburger on a Friday during Lent.  Abstinence is a practice that reminds us we’re not alone.  Jesus is there for us and we’re here for Him.  Giving up meat a few days of the year is a small sacrifice but it’s a meaningful one

When I grew up as a protestant, I was fascinated by the fact that my Catholic friends wouldn’t eat meat on Fridays.  (Remember, it used to be every Friday.)  They would sit in the pizza joint until midnight so they could eat a pepperoni pizza.  I didn’t know why they did it.  After all, their parents would never know.  But they knew.  Even though we might have made fun of them, we’d wait until midnight too.  Somehow in our teen-aged, black and white, protestant minds, we knew that our Catholic friends had something special going on.

You and I have something special going on too.  Thank God for giving us the gift of Lent.  By allowing us this small participation in His suffering, by giving us a small way to pay Him back, He’s giving us something wonderful.

Lent is special.  Lent is cool.

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