Lent: Giving up, doing extra, or both, aren’t one size fits all

By Carol Zimmermann
WASHINGTON – People often talk about giving up something for Lent such as candy, soda or more recently, social media, while some commit to doing something extra including praying more, reading spiritual works or helping others.
And, it turns out, many do both.
This reporter conducted an unofficial poll Feb. 12 on Twitter where 57 percent of respondents said they planned to do something extra and 43 percent said they would give something up for Lent. But without the added option to do both, a few Twitter respondents commented that their true choice was a combination of the two practices for Lent’s 40 days.
“Since both\and is in the nature of the Catholic (Church) I strive for one of each,” wrote Susan Timoney, secretary for pastoral ministry in the Washington Archdiocese.
Father Mario Amore, associate pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Farmington, Michigan, said the two ways to observe Lent really go hand in hand.
“We should be going beyond ourselves out of love to lend a helping hand, be an encouragement or assist others with the necessities of life. We should also be going out of our way to fast from something that we really like,” he said in an email.
The priest said that by fasting, the “physical craving or longing for a certain food might give us just a small glimpse of our longing for God, and even more, God’s longing for us.”
Paulist Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, who is an editor for Pauline Books and Media in Boston and also attends school part time at Boston College, similarly is a fan of giving up and doing something extra during Lent.
“People may not like to hear this, but I think Lent is a good time to do both,” she said.
The religious sister said when people give something up, it often leaves either time or an emotional void which should be filled with something positive.
“For example, if I give up social media, I might also plan to use the extra time to read a spiritual book during the Lenten season,” she told Catholic News Service.
But she also said she doesn’t just randomly pick something to do or go without.
“I always bring my ideas to the Lord in prayer and ask him to guide me in my Lenten practices to ensure that they center on God and not on my personal plans for self-improvement,” she said.
Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, asked his Twitter followers what they were giving up for Lent or doing as a spiritual work. He also asked if there was a way they could do both.
In another tweet, he said he had decided not to choose between the two practices this Lent but to do both “in the hope that the Lord, in his mercy, will grant me an ever greater personal renewal of faith, hope and charity.”
For his combined Lenten effort, he said he was going to give up one hour of his day for increased prayer, beyond his normal prayer routine, which he said “will be hard to maintain but long overdue. To spend the hour with the Lord is a spiritual work beyond price.”
For those who choose one practice or the other, the choice is often thought through and not just made arbitrarily.
Tom Breen, a parishioner at St. James Parish in Manchester, Connecticut, who works in the communications office at the University of Connecticut, said he prefers to give something up for Lent because as he put it: “There are a lot of things that clutter up my life and make it hard to have the kind of focus that’s desirable for a Christian.”
He responded to CNS through Twitter – before Lent started – and pointed out the irony that he was giving up Twitter for Lent. He said he typically checks the social media platform “probably two dozen times a day” noting that it sometimes comes in handy for work but is “mostly a distraction.”
He said reading Twitter can prompt “extremely uncharitable thoughts” so he hopes that giving it up can create more time and room “for serious thought and genuine reflection” and maybe make him realize at the end of the 40 days that he didn’t need it so much after all.
Sister Theresa said she planned to give up social media in some form during Lent, noting that “it’s a good idea to give up anything that has begun to take over our lives and draw us away from the Lord.”
Another option, she said, is not to give up social media completely but to “participate in a more limited manner, or to post more spiritual and uplifting things.”
Others, like Mary Jean Duran from Lafayette, California, are more on board with doing something extra for Lent, provided it is done with others, in the culture of “encounter” that Pope Francis often mentions.
Duran, a parishioner at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Walnut Creek, who volunteers with adult faith formation and the monthly doughnuts ministry, said she plans to pray more during Lent.
“But what makes prayers like the rosary and stations even more authentic for me,” she said in an email, “is praying them in church, with my parish community, including that one guy that always manages to irritate, yet here we are, offering up our prayers together. Powerful.” (Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim)

JACKSON – Wesley Lindsay of the Cathedral of St. Peter the Apostle applies ashes to the forehead of a baby during noon Mass on Wednesday, Feb. 14. This year Ash Wednesday fell on the same day as Valentine's Day. Many bishops had to remind their flocks that there would be no dispensation from fasting or abstaining from meat on this first day of Lent. (Photos by Maureen Smith)