Father James Shafer loves Lent.
I think a lot of people appreciate Lent, the one little vestige of the kind of ascetic behavior that once typified the Catholic experience of fasting, abstinence and sacrifice of all kinds. But I’m not sure how many people love Lent.
Father Jim does.
He is the pastor of my parish in Fort Wayne, and every Lenten season my fellow parishioners and I see him at his best: encouraging, cajoling and inspiring us to jump into Lent with both feet.
Father Jim sees Lent as an annual wake-up call, a time to dust off the cobwebs, set aside the distractions and prepare the way of the Lord.
This Lent was no exception. He can barely restrain himself from talking about Lent a week or two ahead of Ash Wednesday.
His encouragement is always the same: Don’t overdo it. Just do it. Or as he likes to say, “K.I.S.S. Keep it simple, sinner.”
Nowadays, it is probably pretty rare to be called a “sinner” by your pastor, and it may be even more rare to have him lead you through an examination of conscience around the deadly sins, but Lent is the best time to call a spade a spade.
If we were all perfect, after all, we certainly wouldn’t have needed a Redeemer.
Father Jim’s recommendation is a kind of Lenten equivalent of Herman Cain’s catchy 9-9-9 tax plan: Only make it One Sin, One Add, One Give Up.
The Father Jim 1-1-1 plan starts with one sin: Find that one sin you need to work on, he says, and make that your Lenten goal.
Now contrary to what one may think these days, there are six deadly sins besides Lust.
Indeed, some of the other deadly sins are, well, even deadlier. Take those “cold” sins like pride, greed, envy or sloth, the ones that poison the soul and poison relationships and corrupt us with feelings of self-righteousness and superiority. Not many priests hear those very often in confession, I’m told, but a quick check of human nature suggests they are alive and well. Perhaps a bit more common are the “hot” sins such as anger and lust, but in this day and age, gluttony is one that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Having trouble picking one to focus on? He suggests you ask God to help you. If that doesn’t work, ask your family.
Once you’ve identified a sin to work on, move on to Add One.
In other words, add one thing to your routine. The list is pretty much endless: reading a Scripture story, go to Mass one day in the middle of the week, go to Eucharistic adoration one day, volunteer at a social ministry like a soup kitchen, or help an elderly neighbor.
There might be some little act of self-giving you can add to your family chores, a kindness only you will know about. Just add one.
Finally, there is the Give Up One, that little bit of asceticism that reminds us to discipline our bodies, our minds and our spirits.
Of course, the usual stuff works, like sweets or alcohol or meat (a very traditional Lenten fast once upon a time). But there is also giving up texting, or “screens of any sort,” or computer games. One of my sons has given up Facebook for Lent, a real sacrifice for a college kid.
1-1-1: Not a bad way to head into Lent. Not an easy way, either.
What I find is that giving something up is usually easier than adding something. I’m not sure what that says about me that I can give up sugar more easily than read a chapter of Scripture or say a rosary.
That’s when I tell myself that the real goal is not to give up trying.
I hope it’s a great Lent for you. And so does Father Jim.
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.