I guess it's weird to say "Happy Lent". Hence the question mark. As the Catholic of our Trifecta, I thought I'd take the reigns on explaining this sometimes misunderstood liturgical season. However, let me first point out that Anglicans and Orthodox churches also celebrate Lent, as do some of our Protestant brothers and sisters (I'm looking at you, Methodist Alicia.) So everyone can join in on the "fun".
Today is Ash Wednesday - the day we all go to Mass to receive our ashes. That's right, get ready to see plenty of people talking around with "dirt" on their foreheads. We actually make the ashes for Ash Wednesday out of the palms that we use on Palm Sunday. Cute, huh? It's the circle of life. Ashes are an ancient symbol of renewal and repentance. In past years, the tradition was for the Priest to put the ashes on your forehead in the shape of a cross and say, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." I've heard that this year with the new translation of the Roman Missal, it will be different. But, I think that sentiment, while it sounds scary and morbid, tells the tale of what Lent should be about - and here's a hint, it's not about you and your noble sacrifice of giving up chocolate.
I know, I know... we all "give up" something. That's what most people know about Lent. I did this even before I was an actual Catholic. I've given up things in the past, and I can't really say I got anything out of it. Last year I tried something new by ADDING something instead of giving something up. I won't say that was a massive success either, but it taught me that you don't have to give something up for Lent to have meaning.
So what is Lent all about then? I'm not saying that giving up something isn't bad. You should do it, and I am doing it. But I AM saying that you should use your sacrifice to help you refocus on what is important in life. Every time you reach for the Diet Coke, and then the crushing realization comes upon you that can't have one, use that moment to refocus. Refocus on your family. Spend time you would normally be watching TV with a good book, or with friends. Reconnect with God, and spiritual things. If you do something like giving up your Starbucks morning coffee, give the money you would normally spend on that to a charity. Do something, anything, that might help you center yourself. That's what Lent should be about. Self reflection. "Dust to dust" is pretty heavy... but that doesn't make it any less true. Are we doing all we should be, knowing that the clock is ticking?
My parish's pastoral associate said something the other night to our new Catholic candidates that stuck with me. She said that you should be able to look back over Lent once we get to Easter, and see that you did something that made you better. That is what I will pray for all of us this Lent. And if you do give up chocolate, just remember that there will be plenty of Cadbury eggs waiting for you at the end of the line - it will be Easter!
"To change and to change for the better are two different things." - German proverb
Oh, and one more thing:
I'm certainly not going to give up laughing for Lent.