With the first Sunday of Lent upon us — and many of us still unsure about how best to spend our “40 days in the desert” this year — we thought we'd send our intrepid reporter to rustle up some ideas.
He asked a few influential Catholics: What are
Here's what he came back with.
Mary Beth Bonacci, author, speaker and founder of Real Love Productions, says, “I always give up something and I add something extra. Sugar! I'm giving up sugar. In every form — even no ketchup. That means reading labels. It's for me to regulate and discipline myself. And, for a positive thing, I'm going to make a real effort to spend more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament each day.”
Russell Shaw, Washington, D.C.-based author and journalist, is giving up “frequent and unnecessary access to the Internet and checking my e-mail. It has become more and more self-indulgent, like going to the water cooler too much. I'll just go on the Internet and check e-mail only three times a day.” With the time saved, he adds, “I can say hello to my wife and say a decade of the rosary. That will do a lot of good.”
Camille de Blasi, formerly with the Center for Life Principles and now founder of a new ministry called Healing the Culture, says, “I'm not giving up anything for Lent this year. Instead, I'm going to do an extra devotion. I'm going to get up every morning one hour earlier for daily prayer and the rosary. I think I'll get a lot more out of an extra devotion because when you start a new organization, your spiritual life suffers. So I'm giving up work time for more God time.”
Father Mitch Pacwa, Jesuit author and host of “EWTN Live,” says: “As old as I am, I absolutely love ice cream and sweets. In the great time of Lent it's important to stop all those things, all the little luxuries. You really become accustomed to them but don't really need them. It helps toward greater detachment.
“And it may be helpful, for all of us, to acquire that sense of abnegation that should be part of our Christian life, where you realize you can take or leave something. I'm better able to identify with those who are poor, and that's a very important element. I will see the movie The Passion of the Christ, but I'll also refrain from movies during Lent.”
Marie Bellet, singer, song-writer and mother of eight, is going to give up TV. “And I'm keeping my surfaces clean,” she adds. “That means my desk, which is always messy, and the counters and all surfaces that get piles of paper. I'm sorting through all this stuff and not leaving it about.”
Although she watches little television, she'll disconnect the satellite, even forgoing EWTN. “When you've got the TV hooked up, there are so many other things that are tempting,” she explains. Instead, she's going to join a group of women for an Ignatian Bible-study series on the Gospel of John.
Deal Hudson, editor and publisher of Crisis magazine, says he “gave up cigars one Lent. But I can't this time because I already gave up cigars [earlier] this year.” Instead, “I'm going to do bread-and-water fasts on Wednesday for Lent. I think a weekly fast is a real powerful reminder of the meaning of Lent, of Christ's suffering.”
Dr. Helen Alvare, professor at the Catholic University of America School of Law, is giving up two things. “One is ranting at God during prayer time instead of listening,” she says. “I'm actually going to try to listen to God during prayer. I'm also going to give up candy during Lent with my children. For me it's still hard. It's something we all do together, and it makes it easier for them. I like those traditional things. It reminds me of when I was younger. And I like to get the kids started on those particular disciplines.”
Dr. Janet Smith, chairwoman of life issues at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit and consultant on the Pontifical Council for the Family, tries to “give up one new thing each week, so by the end of Lent I give up six things,” she says. “To start, I'm trying to be less haphazard by writing a list of tasks I have to do the next day. I generally will give up reading the newspaper in the mornings because I like to do that. It's the little things, the little indulgences I like to do.”
Another penance? “A delicious mortification for females is to look in their closet and wear something they don't like to wear,” she says. “It's excruciating for females to wear what we don't look good in.”
Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, says everyone in his family gives something up — and, every year, they get together to add something as a family. “Years ago a nun said you should do something positive,” he explains. “I worried my boys were not immersed in the Gospel as they should be. Every night after dinner I read one of the parables and the family discusses what it means. It gives us something quite focused and we give it time to resonate. We usually read it three or four times. We found it a very great addition to our family life.”
Father Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life, will focus on things “more of a spiritual than a physical nature — giving more time and better listening. It's not so much give up as give to other people, the people around us every day. In terms of giving up something, it's the time we have for ourselves” given to family and co-workers.
Then comes listening. “There's a lot of hasty judgment about people and what they're doing, “ he says. “What we have to give up is the easy comfort of quick conclusions about people. We have to make the effort to contact them directly and get an undiluted version of what they do. I'm going to focus on this as a Lenten penance everyone can benefit from.”
Raymond Arroyo, host of EWTN's “The World Over,” says, “On the one hand I'm giving up sweets as I have since I was 2. And I'm resolved to do something positive because of Mother Angelica's influence. As an Italian American, she was loathe to deprive herself at the table. But she always stressed trying to do something more and go the extra mile. I'll spend more time with my family and more time in prayer.”
Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.