And the award goes to ... my conscience

The Academy Awards were on last night, but for the first time in as long as I can remember (25 years, maybe?), I contemplated not watching them.

The possibility of abstaining from one of my favorite nights of the year had been looming since Ash Wednesday and our annual attempt to give up watching television. Only this year, aside from twice caving to the pleas of fever-struck, couch-ridden kids, the TV has stayed off. And it has been glorious.

But last night provided the first real test for me. (Next week, the crisis might very well reach DEFCON 1 when my wife and kids’ beloved “Once Upon a Time” returns.)

All weekend leading up to Oscar night, I wrestled with the decision. Several people mentioned the classic, “It’s Sunday; Sunday doesn’t count as Lent” argument. For years in my own house, I’ve lobbied hard against that excuse, but I did consider revisiting its merit it for a brief moment (because: Leo).

Seeking a way around my own conscience, I looked to our bishops to provide clarity on the subject.

On the USCCB website, they have a section titled “Questions and answers about Lent and Lenten practices,” and wouldn’t you know it, the first question was pertinent.

“Why do we say that there are 40 days of Lent? When you count all the days from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, there are 46.”

Their answer was most helpful.

“It might be more accurate to say that there is the ‘40-day fast within Lent.’ Historically, Lent has varied from a week to three weeks to the present configuration of 46 days. The 40-day fast, however, has been more stable. The Sundays of Lent are certainly part of the Time of Lent, but they are not prescribed days of fast and abstinence.”

Yes! Pass the popcorn. Pass the predictions ballot.

But I kept reading. Bad decision.

Next question, bishops.

“So does that mean that when we give something up for Lent, such as candy, we can have it on Sundays?”

Good. Finally. Let’s clear this up once and for all.

Their answer: “Apart from the prescribed days of fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and the days of abstinence every Friday of Lent, Catholics have traditionally chosen additional penitential practices for the whole Time of Lent. These practices are disciplinary in nature and often more effective if they are continuous, i.e., kept on Sundays as well.”

Loophole closed. I knew it. Sorry, Leo.

And then …

“That being said, such practices are not regulated by the Church, but by individual conscience.”

Seriously? Is it too much to ask for a straight answer?

So my conscience and I had a conversation Saturday night about me watching the Oscars the next evening. My conscience, whom I’ve been married to for almost 15 years, asked me about the example it would set for our children. My beautiful, devout wife (too devout, at inconvenient times, if you ask me) said, “Do you think Jesus, would have said, ‘This hanging on the cross is rough, but it’s definitely worth it. Oooh! Never mind. The Oscars are on!’”

And so I ended up not watching. After that, how could I?

At the end of the day, I have no idea how God feels about me not watching the Oscars — or any TV during Lent. Would he have been more pleased if I had celebrated the Sunday resurrection of Christ by watching Leo give his acceptance speech? Maybe.

As I sat not watching — while writing and only half paying attention to the awards via Twitter — I was left wondering: Did I not watch for the right reasons? While it was partly an act of penance, it was also partly out of guilt, partly out of a sense of duty, partly to be a good example to the kids, and partly, I suppose, out of pride — just so I could say I stayed strong, and aren’t I a great Catholic?

But still, after a weekend full of conflicted thoughts, not watching felt like the right thing to do. And if St. Bonaventure is to be believed, that “conscience is like God’s herald and messenger,” most likely, it was best to listen to it.

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.