As people are mulling over what to give up for Lent, I would like to offer a suggestion for a penance that I have found quite fruitful.
Years ago, I decided to try something new. I gave up beauty. Here’s how I did it:
- I adopted silence:
- I gave up listening to music.
- I gave up listening to recorded talks of any kind.
- The radio in the car was never turned on.
- I adopted bareness:
- I took down all the art in my bedroom and office (the walls and furniture surfaces were absolutely bare).
- The screen saver on my computer was changed to a black screen. I did the same on my phone.
- I gave up mastery of my space: (In order to understand this penance, one need’s to know that I was lucky enough to have two offices. I had one at the parish, where I met with people. My other office was in the rectory, where I actually got work done and where I spent most of my administrative time. I did these things in my private office at the rectory… else people would think that I was merely a slob):
- If I got a package delivered, I did not throw out the box or bubble envelope, nor the packing materials. Everything was placed on the floor of my office. I started in one corner and just radiated the pile out from there. The pile quickly grew into a mound, and then to a hill, and then…
- I discarded my office garbage can and paper recycling bin. All office trash and recycling went directly onto a pile on the floor. Those who know me know that I am a little bit of a neat freak. (This penance, especially, drove me absolutely nuts.)
“This was easily the most fruitful Lent I ever had. There was nothing nice to look at, nothing nice to listen to. The order and tidiness that I treasure and that brings me well-being, I did not afford myself. Although I came to appreciate aspects of the silence and the starkness/bareness, I never really got used to them.”
I certainly never got used to having trash around. But, even this penance I came to appreciate. The ever-growing pile of trash was an easy visual reminder for what life would be apart from the grace of the forgiveness purchased, and freely bestowed, by Jesus. It became an ever-present reminder of His coming Easter victory.
I did all of this for the entirely of Lent. It was a powerful desert experience.
“Then, just before I went into the church to celebrate the Easter Vigil Mass, I gathered all the trash and placed it in a trash can (I never thought of Jesus as my soul’s trash can until that moment) and then threw it out, along with all the empty packaging. I put back all the art, statuary, and other decorative elements. I put a gloriously beautiful screensaver on my computer. Finally, I programmed my music player to have a beautiful symphony playing for when I would enter my office after the Vigil was done.”
When I returned home, I can’t tell you how nice it was to enter into my office and see everything renewed, restored, tidied, and beautiful. Wow! It was like I entered another world. With the removal of the trash, I could actually see my floor. The room seemed four times bigger. It was now elegant in a way that I never remembered it. It was easily one of the most blessed Easter experiences I have ever had.
Fr. Carlos runs Treasures of the Church, a ministry of evangelization of the Catholic Church. Its purpose is to give people an experience of the living God through an encounter with the relics of his saints in the form of an exposition. To host an exposition, or to find our more, click here.
(Photo credit: Michael Dave Dizon, www.mddphotography.com)