Watch Out For Lenten Landmines
Published: March 4, 2010
Lent can be fraught with spiritual landmines. True, some years I actually make it through the whole season without breaking down and gobbling down whatever it is I have given up. But there are some very real Lenten dangers orchestrated by the devil, who just hates it when we try to follow Christ.
First, there is the “I’m OK, you’re OK” approach to Lent, which suggests we are fine as we are—and God doesn’t expect us to sacrifice anything. This same mindset may pervade the entire liturgical year for folks who think God doesn’t care if they miss Sunday Mass.
“My God loves me just the way I am” is a typical excuse you will hear from such people, who disparage a God who demands anything of them. The fallacy of this perspective is brought home by envisioning a parent who expects nothing of a child. A loving parent will expect rules to be followed and reasonable demands to be met.
Pride is the second spiritual landmine during Lent. Here’s a typical scenario: If I’ve given up sweets and someone offers me a cupcake, I will drop my eyes ever so delicately and murmur, “No thanks. Lent, you know.” This response is even more tempting if the person offering the treat is a non-believer who doesn’t give up stuff during Lent.
Because, of course, my hope is they will be so impressed with my piety that they will rush right out and join the nearest R.C.I.A. program. Why, I can even imagine the person telling others about this conversion experience: “It all started when this lady turned down a cupcake at Lent.”
In reality, most people who hear me referencing my Lenten sacrifices probably are mentally rolling their eyes and thinking: “Oh, another smug Catholic woman who can’t resist broadcasting to the whole world how holy she is.”
Of course, Lent is not always about cupcakes. There are also times when I try to develop a new good habit, only to fall into a similar devilish trap. There was the year I decided to go to daily Mass, for example, and before long, when I looked in the mirror, I began to see a halo forming around my head. I felt like I was oh so proudly wearing a T-shirt proclaiming in big red letters: THIS LADY GOES TO MASS EVERY DAY! YES, YOU READ THAT RIGHT: EVERY DAY!
Breaking promises is the third Lenten landmine. One year I promised God I would not eat any sweets, and before long, I found myself re-defining words. As in: “Yes, this is a blueberry muffin with chocolate chips and frosting, but it still doesn’t count as a sweet.” Or: “This beverage has caramel and whipped cream, but it is coffee, not dessert.” Another year, I wanted to forgo complaining, but I found myself bemoaning that I couldn’t complain!
Other landmines include giving up things you don’t care about anyway, as seen in the child foregoing Brussels sprouts. Or limiting sweets for the wrong reason, as in “I’ll lose a few pounds.”
The devil creates traps for us all year, but he is especially busy at Lent. After all, Lent is a very special season when we go into the desert, symbolically speaking, with Jesus, who fasted and prayed for 40 days. But it is also the devil’s testing ground. And when he shows up in our Lenten desert with his array of temptations, let’s respond with the same words Christ uttered during his own moment of truth: “Begone, Satan!”
Lorraine’s latest books are “Death in the Choir,” a mystery set in Decatur, and “The Abbess of Andalusia,” a book about Flannery O’Connor’s spiritual journey. Artwork is by Jef Murray. Readers may e-mail the Murrays at www.lorrainevmurray.com.