Giving Up

I give up. Do you?

It is Lent. As we all know, we are supposed to “give up” something for Lent—chocolate, hamburgers,
cigarettes, reading the National Enquirer
… something, anything that shows a willingness to
sacrifi ce and do some penance for these forty days.
And right about now, less than two weeks into Lent,
after giving up something … I give up.
I’m weak. I’m undisciplined. I’m lazy. I’m … about
to reach for a peanut butter cup and a tub of ice
cream. I’m pathetic.
How many of us really follow through on our
Lenten sacrifi ces? A show of hands, please.

I thought so.

I suspect it was easier to give up things hundreds
of years ago, when there wasn’t much to give up
anyway. Give up cold gruel for breakfast? Okay.
No problem.

But we 21st century Catholics are spoiled. We want
our cell phones. And our 500 channels of cable.
Sacrifi ce, for too many of us, means ordering a tall
decaf from Starbucks, instead of the venti.

So maybe what we need these days is not to do
without, but simply to do.

Buy that chocolate peanut butter cup. And share it
with the homeless man outside your offi ce. While
you’re at it, buy him a Starbucks tall decaf. The extra
dollar you would have spent for a venti? Slip it into
the collection basket next Sunday. Or into the box
for the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

Send a postcard to a friend, for no reason at all, just
to say hello. Call a distant relative to say how much
you appreciated his photocopied Christmas letter.

Visit the Central Park Zoo, in this cold and inhospitable
time of year, and make a donation and wave
at the polar bears and the penguins. The zoo will
appreciate it, the animals will like it, and St. Francis
of Assisi will smile.

Speaking of Francis: If you’re shopping down at
Herald Square, or running through Penn Station
to get a train, stop by St. Francis of Assisi Friary,
on 32nd Street, and slip a fi ve into the box for their
famous breadline.

Or walk a block west, to St. John the Baptist’s Bread
of Life Food Pantry. There, every Wednesday from
12:45 to 2:45 , volunteers pass out food to more
than 500 hungry people. Gifts of time or money
are always welcome.

Or take the money you would have spent on a manicure
and take a child to the circus. Give someone an
hour of enchantment, and expect nothing in return.

Mind you, I’m not an advocate for shrugging off
the practice of giving up during Lent. There is
abundant grace to be found in sacrifi ce and a little
bit of suffering.

But maybe we all should remind ourselves, at this
particular moment in the church calendar, that
“giving up” starts with “giving.”

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