Lent is here again, which obviously means one thing: It’s time for the holiest people to shine. That’s right, it’s a foot race and I’m in it to win it, baby! I’m going to kick your tail from here to Gehenna; ain’t no one gonna “out-sacrifice” me this Lent. I’m going to go over and above and beyond plus infinity… and beyond.
What’s that you say? You don’t believe me?
Well, try this running sandal on for size, doubting Thomas:
You’re giving up meat for Lent? Well, I’m giving up solid foods.
You’re giving up profanity? Well, I’m going to run a mile every time I say “crap.”
You’re gonna pray a rosary every day? Well, I’m praying three a day… in Latin.
I’m giving away my mattress this Lent and sleeping on the floor. I’m giving up coffee, too. Yes, my family will just have to deal with the horrid, half-asleep monster I will become. Oh, and there will be no music, no television or movies, and ultimately, no joy. Yep, that’s my goal… to identify every small source of earthly joy I can and snuff it out like an altar candle after Mass.
I will cover myself in some sort of polyester blend and sit on a pile of dung, wailing aloud on social media about my love of God for all to hear (but not sharing Him face-to-face with a stranger, that’s just “too much”).
I’ll be doing all of these things not because of my great love for God but because of my desire to leave no doubt to anyone just how holy I am. In fact, when others share what they’re giving up, which could very well be a huge struggle for them but appears seemingly “small” or “insignificant” to me, I’ll offer a duplicitous yet kind smile, silently judge them, and then throw my trump card of Catholic supremacy.
Of course, trying to “out-holy” anyone is the anti-gospel; it is un-holy crap (and now I have to run a mile).
Maybe, just maybe, what I should “give up” this Lent is stupid, judgmental, self-focused competitiveness in holiness and “add on” gratitude for any soul who is sincerely trying to grow closer to Christ.
Rather than asking what others are giving up or adding on, maybe I’ll just ask them how I can pray for them — and then actually do it. Maybe I’ll even have the courage to stop and pray with them.
Sure, I’ll still give things up and add things on but what I do, I’ll do in secret because “the Father who sees in secret will repay [me]” (Matthew 6:6).
Here’s the thing about Lent: Your thing is your thing. What you give up and what you add on is between you and God, not you and your friends. If you want to bring them into it, asking them to walk with you or hold you accountable, all power to you. If you don’t want anyone but God to know, that’s okay, too.
If, however, you take every opportunity (consciously or unconsciously) to share just how much you’re giving up or how much you’re doing, it’s not holiness you’re seeking — it’s attention.
The Catechism tells us that, “Pride sets oneself in competition with God” (CCC, Glossary). Pride, also, sets us in competition with one another, and since Christ is in the other, it’s a double-whammy of sin.
How’s that for irony? In an effort to grow in our faith through sacrifices and prayerful works this Lent, we could actually accomplish the exact opposite of our goal.
Now, don’t get too down on yourself. It’s a common trap amongst Christians. Even the apostles debated over who was the holiest and who deserved the most recognition. We see the apostles arguing over who would be the greatest not once, but twice in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 9; Luke 22)… so obviously some lessons took even Jesus’ closest followers some time to learn.
Pride contorts the simple until it seems complex, as we learned in the Garden of Eden. Pride disfigures beauty, as we witnessed during Christ’s passion. Pride destroys the Kingdom rather than building it, as we’ve seen countless times throughout history.
Pride is the root of all sin, which is why it cannot be allowed to flourish, especially amongst Christians. Truthfully, we shouldn’t “swallow our pride” — it’s even more poisonous than aspartame. We must carry our pride into the confessional and leave it there, frequently. We must bring our pride forward and place it on the altar… to die.
Oh, and let’s not forget that pride takes different forms and reveals itself in different ways. For instance, pride in the form of false humility is even more dangerous. Acting as though we’re not really great and downplaying what makes us special and unique in the eyes of the Father? Yeah, that’s just false humility.
Talking about how “un-special” and “un-holy” we are when we really don’t believe it, and hoping that someone else will build us up and affirm us? Absolute false humility — and false humility is true pride.
You are incredible. You are a son or daughter of God. His Spirit lives within you; His very life (grace) sustains you. You are gifted, you are talented, and you are His. That is cause for celebration not solely for how great you are but rather, for how great God is (within you)!
So, to sum up, if you’re going to boast, “boast of the things that show your weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30).
Love the Lord your God with everything you have (Mark 12:30), and cheer on others for trying to do the same. Life is a marathon. Heaven is the finish line — it’s about how many cross it, not what their time was getting there.
Lent is here, run hard.