ASHES IS JUST THE START OF LENT, the way an old-time farmer would begin by spreading wood-ashes (poor man's manure) on the field, orchard or garden to increase the summer yields. Pray it's safe to say we all want to do more for Lent than just "get ashes."
Lent is the Church's Springtime. It's the inner project whereby something new comes alive in us. I'm to live in such a way these forty days that come Easter, in some way I will be changed. Springtime: Warming, Increasing, Thawing, Melting, Birth-ing, Greening. Lent-Easter says: See, we can change!
Just giving up things doesn't really effect this process in any way. We need a project that gets inside, that takes us up and alongside Christ-Risen in his NEWNESS. The giving up of sugar, alcohol, meat and fun serves to keep the idea of Lent in the forefront - but the real doing of Lent is interior.
Here's a Lenten idea that might shake-up our worlds a bit. It's called the 3 C's: No Complaining. No Criticizing. No Condemning. It would admittedly be easier to just give up candy and call it a day. I've called this post A More Light-Hearted Lent, because when I recommend the 3 C's to people, most of them smile or laugh outright because they know how soaked we are in complaining, criticizing and condemning, and that getting rid of it won't be easy.
We might begin by just listening to ourselves over the next week before Ash Wednesday to see how much of it we share: criticizing and complaining about a spouse, about the kids, about our parents, the teacher, the homework, the others on the team, the food, the weather, the president, about the way things are, the traffic, the prices, the boss, the stores, about money, about our health, about the housework, the customers, the neighbor's kids, the people on the road, the colleagues, the waitress, about not being appreciated, not understood, about the work I have to do, about not getting any help...!
If we want or need to, we can fine tune complaining, criticizing and condemning as to what the differences are. Maybe they are just to be reduced to one word: negativity. And when negativity gets a real hold on us then we become cynics. Was it Bob Dylan who sang or said: You can't please a cynic if you try.
Alice Herz-Sommer the oldest known Holocaust Survivor recently died at 110. She saw humanity at its worst. When her family was being taken away, the neighbors quickly came to the apartment to remove what they wanted from the family's belongings: dishes, clothing, furniture, pictures, rugs. pots and pans.
In the short documentary about her life that is airing these days, she said, "I think about the good. That takes a lot of practice."