The days leading up to Lent, in our house, are full of chatter and great expectations. It is a time of true discernment, of analyzing your own faults and, for my children, those of your brother and sister. Every year, grand plans are made for the Lenten sacrifice.
On Fat Tuesday, as we sat around the dinner table, we discussed what we would be doing for Lent. As in years past, as a family, we’re turning off the television. For my beautiful, devout wife and me, that’s not much of a sacrifice. For 40 days, we will bask in the sound of silence, of not having to shout in order snap our kids out of the hypnotic spell they are put under during their 17th viewing of a “Good Luck Charlie” episode on Netflix. Also, quality time with iPods and iPads and computers will be severely limited, as we’re not looking to trade one screen for another. Minecraft (you fellow parents can sympathize) will eventually be resurrected, but it’s not going to happen during Lent.
With the family “sacrifice” in place, we went around the table asking our kids what they would be doing individually. Jacob (our adorable 5-year-old) went first. Because he’s only in kindergarten and still getting comfortable with the alphabet, I can write this with reassuring certainty that he won’t be reading this blog. He might not appreciate this years from now, but we’ll deal with that later. Jacob sucks his thumb. Maybe we’re horrible parents because we haven’t pushed him to stop, but he doesn’t do it at Mass or school or walking through the grocery store. He does it when he’s home and sleepy and snuggly. And he loves it.
He is a tremendously pious little boy. My wife always says he’s going to be our priest. Jacob is the one who always reminds us to pray as we mindlessly start eating our weekend lunches. So when he said he was going to stop sucking his thumb during Lent, he meant it.
And then Ash Wednesday came. In the mornings, generally, I flip on the light in the boys’ bedroom and he comes toddling into our room, still half asleep. He crawls into our bed, next to his mother. Because it’s a habit forged over the last nearly six years, instinctively, his little thumb found its way into his little mouth. Knowing he hadn’t realized it was the first day of Lent, I reminded him. He looked at me with his saucer-sized blue eyes and took his thumb out of his mouth long enough to tell me he couldn’t do it, that it was too hard.
But the thought counted.
And still, in my opinion, his isn’t the most difficult proposition put forward as we sat around the table. His brother and sister (again, fully intending on carrying it through to Easter) have decided that they will not shout nor scream at, nor physically assault, each other. They will live in harmony for 40 days.
As I was contemplating my own sacrifice, twice on Ash Wednesday I read the day’s Gospel reading. “[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do” (Mt 6:1-2).
As I read the passage again, I looked carefully for “unless you have a Catholic blog to write; then, feel free to loudly toot your own horn.” I couldn’t find it, sadly. But it got me to think about my Lenten sacrifices of the past, and my motivation. Was I doing these things in order to grow closer to Christ, or was I doing them so I had something to brag about when, inevitably, somebody would ask me what I was giving up for Lent? What could I come up with that would really impress people? The answer was obvious. I am the hypocrite, and I had fully intended on using this blog as my trumpet. My sacrifices in the past have been more about boosting my pride than about quietly servicing my soul. And I’m certain that I’m not alone.
But not this Lent.
So eat your chocolate or don’t; drink your sodas or don’t; suck your thumb or don’t; fight with your siblings or don’t; watch television or don’t. But pray more; confess more; read the Bible more; focus on Christ’s teachings and, most importantly, what he is preparing to sacrifice.
Scott Warden is the associate editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow him on Twitter @Scott_OSV.
For more of Scott's Confessions of a Catholic Dad, click here.