woman and child, marked with a cross of ashes, attend Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles Feb. 22. CNS photo/Victor Aleman, Vida Nueva

Six ways to avoid Lent (but it won’t be easy)

  • February 28, 2012

Lent this year has been going on for a while now, but it’s not too late to get around it. For those reluctant to join with the many who are making a Lenten sacrifice and are instead looking for reliable methods to escape Lent, I offer six suggestions. Use at your own pace.

1. Don’t enter a church. Lent is everywhere in there these days, in the words, the music, the smells, the wall hangings. Even if you do happen to wander into a church or two, there are still ways to avoid Lent while inside, including the techniques listed below.

2. Stop praying. This includes not only the deep, rich, gift-kind of prayer, when we profoundly feel God’s presence, but also rote prayer and prayers that seem to come only from the lips. That seemingly superficial kind of prayer — the one that we stay faithful to even when we can’t seem to find or feel God at all, when we feel only pain, or when we’re provided no felt reward and no sense of success — has a hidden but decisive power. So if you are fleeing Lent, you’d better flee all kinds of prayer. (This is especially effective when combined with one or more of the other five.)

3. Think only of yourself. We have multiple methods at our disposal. We can even disguise that this is what we’re doing and imagine we are thinking of others when our attention is wholly absorbed by ourselves.

4. Use all your willpower to follow the Church’s Lenten rules to the letter, relying completely on yourself, as though God doesn’t exist, or you were God.

5. Pretend you don’t have a body. It’s a good trick to know, since some think eschewing the body is the best way to dive into Lent, rather than to get around it. They know that Lent is profoundly mystical, fashioned to bring the heart and soul closer to God, their source and goal. But they forget that it’s also terribly physical; for humans aren’t pure spirit (as the angels are), nor pure animal. So if we’re to come into the life of the Trinity, our bodies must be part of the journey. That’s why so much about Lent is designed to help us encounter the body and to bring body and soul closer to their original unity. Lent helps prepare us for our return to Paradise, or rather our ultimate entry into God’s Kingdom. In its original state of innocence (as John Paul II reminded us in his theology of the body, audience number 28), the body was subordinated to and united with the spirit. In our present state, the body is a “centre of resistance” to the spirit, as we experience daily in a thousand ways. The Lenten invitation to encounter the body is an invitation to receive Christ’s gift of the restoration of all things — including the body-spirit unity. By accepting this invitation, we re-taste the Paradise of Adam and Eve. (Some eastern monks never eat meat, as a way of living Paradise, where no one needs to kill in order to sustain life.) At the same time, we foretaste the Kingdom of God into which Christ invites us. Living these 40 days as though the body weren’t involved is an especially sophisticated method of avoiding Lent.

6. Hide from yourself all grief, sadness, loneliness, anger, despair, hunger, longing, fear, thirst, emptiness, pettiness, selfishness, lust and yearning you have ever felt; seal them in a locked mental chamber and stay away. (For those who wish to try the advanced version, take care also to hide joy, kindness, delight and sweetness; go around throughout Lent with a sombre, stern face.)

If Lent involves encountering the body, how much more does it mean entering into our own heart? As God spoke to the prophet Hosea: “I will seduce her, and lead her into the wilderness, and there speak to her heart.” By refusing to enter into the wilderness of our hearts, we can postpone, if not completely avoid, the Lenten trek. We may be adept, already, at locking ourselves out of these “dark” places in our hearts — the kind Jesus deliberately entered into when the Spirit led Him into the desert for 40 days (the model of our 40-day Lent), with the devil as tempting company. By inviting us into the Lenten desert wilderness, the Church asks us to enter these inner places, trusting that Christ will meet us there. After all, He descended into Hell and harrowed it; so if He asks us to remain in our darkness rather than running away, it’s because that’s where the Resurrection will happen. If we avoid going there, how will we know the Resurrection?

Avoiding Lent might not be so easy, or so desirable, after all.