Thursday, March 15, 2018

Meeting the Challenge of Lent

We are approaching Holy Week, the home stretch of Lent.
Lent is the Christian season of anticipating the
promise of Easter with prayer, sacrifice, and good works. Lent is always a challenge to become a better person, to be more like the best person ever, Jesus Christ. Lent is noted for "giving up" something--smoking, drinking, eating ice cream, chewing gum--some treasured habit or special treat that one enjoys. But equally important is the Lenten call to step up and do more--increased charitable giving, additional prayer, more reaching out to one's neighbors.

I'm afraid I haven't had a very good run at Lent this year. I haven't given up anything. I'm not doing measurably more praying than I usually do. Thus far I haven't made any extra monetary donations to my favorite charities (although I will, I promise!). I missed the Community Penance at my parish church this week. I'm just not very energized towards any of my usual Lenten routines, except for one--spiritual reading.

About ten years ago I began the practice of reading at least one spiritual or religious-themed book during Lent. I've read more excellent books than I can count over the past decade--lives of the saints, histories of Christianity and Catholicism, anthologies of prayers and spiritual writings. I look forward to my Lenten reading so much that it can hardly be called a sacrifice. Until this year.

This year, I'm reading The Confessions by St. Augustine. At least, I'm trying to read it. Having started the book countless times since college days, only to quit in discouragement a few pages in, I decided this would be the year that I slog through to completion. Confessions often appears on lists with titles such as "the best books ever written" or "books you must read before you die" (which makes sense, since it would be quite difficult to read it after the fact). The premise of the book is simple enough. It's the introspective outpourings of the famous bishop, saint, and Doctor of the Church who frittered away his youth as a dissolute playboy. But reading the fourth century classic is a tough go. Not only does the reader have all those "Thees," "Thous" and "dosts" to deal with, Augustine's writing is quite deep, intellectually demanding, and philosophically daunting. (Maybe he's just too smart for me.)

I'm sticking with it, however, and tonight my e-reader tells me I've finished 39% of the book. That challenges me to finish 61% of The Confessions in the next sixteen days. I'll be up late tonight, and probably every night before Easter, fighting off sleep as I battle my way to the final period. When I think of it that way, I suppose that maybe I am doing something for Lent this year, after all.