By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published March 9, 2018
“What are you giving up for Lent?” was a playground question among my Catholic friends in elementary school.
The answer—sweets—was predictable enough. Forgoing treats was a straightforward penance for little kids who didn’t struggle with adult issues like gambling, smoking, drinking—or lusting after some forbidden person.
Unfortunately, for a chubby child who found solace in food, Lent became just another diet.
This same Lenten dilemma has dogged me as an adult because sacrificing any kind of food inevitably leads to the moment when I step on the scales and see the numbers going down. The elation that follows has nothing to do with drawing closer to Jesus.
This year, instead of denying myself treats, I’m trying to tame my big, fat, selfish ego, which stalks me like a monster. And the following example shows I have my work cut out for me.
I was standing in the checkout line at the grocery store last week, when I recalled my friend was too ill to leave home. The thought struck me “out of the blue” that it would be kind to call her and see what she needed.
Here was a chance to nip selfishness in the bud, although I encountered resistance. You see, I was in a hurry to get home and have a nice cup of tea with ginger cookies. Did I really want to start shopping all over again?
In that moment I had a choice: surrender to selfishness, leave the store and have my treat—or do a good deed.
After giving my ego a big shove, I called my friend, who needed just a few small items, which were a joy to purchase and deliver.
The score? Big, fat, selfish ego: zero. Lent: one.
Battling selfishness can draw us closer to God, once we realize the more we say “no” to ourselves, the more we can say “yes” to Christ.
The ultimate example of self-denial was shown on the cross, when Jesus willingly endured agony for us.
And during Lent, we’re asked “to share in a particular way in the Passion of our Lord … through penance,” writes Dominican Father Gerald Vann in “The Pain of Christ and the Sorrow of God.”
He notes that self-denial “is a way of training ourselves to choose love instead of selfishness.”
Sometimes penance means setting the alarm clock, when we’d rather sleep late. I learned this lesson after my neighborhood parish stopped offering daily Mass on Saturdays.
Of course, I could attend Mass at a church farther away—Immaculate Heart of Mary—but this entailed waking up with the birds, and my selfish side resisted the thought of losing sleep.
Still, once I began putting Saturday morning Mass on my schedule, I discovered how peaceful it was to arise early and drive to Immaculate Heart of Mary.
And what joy there is in offering holy Communion for the repose of the souls of beloved family members.
Each day presents more challenges to our egos. For example, why do we think we must set people straight on controversial Facebook posts?
Although my ego yearns to emerge victorious in debates—and look impressive to others—in reality, online discussions rarely end peacefully with someone conceding the point. Better to say a prayer and remain silent.
The struggle against me-centered living is real and ongoing. We have to arise each day during Lent and prepare ourselves again for battle.
Let’s pray that once Lent is over, the habit of saying “no” to self and “yes” to God will be firmly implanted in our hearts. And we’ll continue choosing love instead of selfishness.
Artwork (“Bridge of Khazad-Dum,” oil painting) by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.