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Lent: Don’t Barter With God!

February 6, AD2018 2 Comments

Introduction

Lent is upon us. Interestingly, my Lenten penance and my goals have changed since my conversion.

Let me preface these remarks with an account of my bartering with God before my conversion, because this connects with the title.    At that time I was a worrier–the future I foresaw was always gloomy, with the worst possible scenario coming to pass. (I still am to a degree, 23 years after my conversion.) example, if my wife (or wife and children) were off somewhere and past the expected time of return by a half-hour or more, I would envisage car wrecks, abductions, etc. And so I would say to God, “Please let them come home OK, and I’ll give up chocolate” (or stop biting my finger-nails, or _____ (fill in the blanks.)

Even though I was not altogether sure then that there was a God,  I usually made good on these bribes, at least for an extended period of time, or until the next occasion of potential disaster arose.   But it never occurred to me, as my wife pointed out later after my conversion, that this was a very pagan practice and totally against Catholic notions of what God demands of us.   And so to Lent.

Jewish Preliminaries

One of the things one is supposed to do at Lent is fast.   This was not a new thing for me.  As an ethnic Jew (non-religious) I would observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, by fasting (only water and coffee, a fast, which at 87, I still have observed) and by reflecting on the past year and what I had done wrong.  You should note that the Catholic fasting regimen is more lenient than the Jewish.   Even by drinking coffee I was not holding strictly to a Jewish fasting regime.   More interesting are speculations as to why fasting arose with the Jews:  according to the Jewish Encyclopedia,

“others, again (e.g., Smend), attribute the custom to a desire on the part of the worshipers to humble themselves before their God, so as to arouse His sympathy.”

As the linked article notes, there were a host of holidays and occasions on which ancient Jews would fast, particularly if they sought mercy from the Lord:

“And Nathan departed unto his house. And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick. David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.    And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them.”  –2 Samuel 12:15,16 (KJV)

So, again, bartering with God.

My Lent and How It Grew

My first Lent after my conversion to the Church in 1995  pretty much followed my Jewish ideas.   I fasted in the Jewish mode on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and I gave up things and practices–candy, biting my fingernails, watching some favorite TV shows (Frasier, Seinfeld)–in other words sacrificing, not a goat, but stuff I enjoyed,  hoping that this would please God.    There was no thought of doing that which would make me grow in faith.

As the years passed, and I listened to more homilies on Lent and I read more about the Church and Lent, it struck me that God didn’t need this–He wasn’t going to eat the candy or ice cream I gave up (His was the “Big Rock Candy Mountain“).     What He wanted was that I grow closer to him,  that I share–in a very little way–the sufferings of Christ and thereby appreciate more fully what Christ had undergone and what He has gained for us.

So, what I did over the years was to modify my Lenten resolutions, year by year.

  • •To cultivate the virtue of patience, I resolved not to pass cars going the posted speed limit (I learned to drive in Southern California, where the race is to the swift); this was the resolution broken most often, but these last few years I’ve learned to adhere to it (or maybe that’s just the consequence of growing older).
  • •To lessen my concern with things of this world, I resolved not to visit eBay or to buy things online;
  • •Again, to lessen my concern with the material world, I resolved to not watch those cooking show competitions to which I had become addicted;
  • •I resolved not to eat between meals and eat only one helping of any food that I liked; this was also a difficult resolution to keep, and I’ve modified it. I don’t want this to be a diet, but something to moderate concupiscence and gluttony. There’s a quote from St. Augustine that’s pertinent:

“I struggle each day against concupiscence in eating and drinking.  It is not something that I can cut off once and for all and touch no more, as I would with concubinage.  The bridle put on the throat must be held with moderate looseness and moderate firmness.  Is there anyone, Lord, who is not carried a little beyond the limits of personal need?”-St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions 10, 31

Positive Lenten Resolutions

And on a positive note, I’ve resolved to attend Mass every day, to spend more time with the Liturgy of the Hours (to do more than Morning Prayer and the Office of Readings), to do more volunteer work, and to be more liberal in almsgiving.  And, most important,  not to pray for things or actions, but rather to pray to accept the will of God, to put my trust in Him, and to know His love.  I still pray for healing for others and for the Holy Spirit to send grace to family and friends, but this is for others, not myself.

To some degree, these resolutions have been carried through outside of Lent, particularly the positive ones.  I don’t claim to live a perpetual Lent as advised by St. Augustine, but there have been changes effected by the forty days.    In the main, I try to remember that God cannot be bribed;  that Lent is not for Him, but for me.

“Christians must always live this way, without any wish to come down from their Cross–otherwise they will sink beneath the world’s mire. But if we have to do so all our lives, we must make even a greater effort during the days of Lent. It is not a simple matter of living through forty days. Lent is the epitome of our whole life.”-St. Augustine, Sermon 205, I. As quoted in Augustine Day by Day, March 14th

Have a good, a fruitful and a holy Lent!

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Retired, cranky, old physicist. Convert to Catholicism in 1995. Trying to show that there is no contradiction between what science tells us about the world and our Catholic faith. Intermittent blogs at Rational Catholic and adult education classes here to achieve this end. Extraordinary Minister of Communion volunteer to federal prison and hospital; lector, EOMC. Sometime player of bass clarinet, alto clarinet, clarinet, bass, tenor bowed psaltery for parish instrumental group and local folk group. And, finally, my motivation: “It is also necessary—may God grant it!—that in providing others with books to read I myself should make progress, and that in trying to answer their questions I myself should find what I am seeking. Therefore at the command of God our Lord and with his help, I have undertaken not so much to discourse with authority on matters known to me as to know them better by discoursing devoutly of them.” St. Augustine of Hippo, The Trinity I,8.

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