People get very funny about their Lenten resolutions. Some are very secretive and get upset when asked what they've given up for Lent. I once heard one individual more or less accuse someone of being a heretic just because he asked about his resolutions. Some people set themselves resolutions which are impossibly high and inevitably get broken - while yesterday I was talking to a person who, after complaining that this year's resolution to give up chocolate was proving difficult,admitted that he didn't usually eat much chocolate anyway!
Of course we still hear people say that it is 'negative' to give something up and so they try to do something extra instead. I admit I find the claim that mortification is negative to be a bit irritating. We give something up in order to identify ourselves with Christ in his suffering: to be there for him. Is it negative to hold the hand of someone who is in pain? Is it negative to sit beside the bed of a patient in hospital? Is it negative to be there for someone in their agony?
At the beginning of Lent we are invited to remember that we are but dust and unto dust we shall return, and also that the task before us is to repent and believe the Gospel. The reality of death and judgement is an incentive for our conversion.
There are three aspects to our Lenten observance: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Fasting expresses particularly well our desire to turn away from sin and to make an effort to ensure that sin releases its grip on us. It need not just be in questions of food - although that prayer of the senses is a particularly apt one for this season - I have a friend who decided not to read his emails until after breakfast! Fasting helps us overcome our selfishness because it involves a turning away from our desires and pleasures and whims.
Almsgiving expresses our turning towards our neighbour. For some it just means financially supporting some good cause but it is surely more than that. We are called to love our neighbour and love is the gift of ourselves - not just our money. I think there is also a certain order in our almsgiving. How well do we give ourselves to our family members? When we go home are we looking for a chance to get onto the computer as soon as possible to check our Facebook messages, or do we give time to the people with whom we live. Do we talk to them, ask them questions, listen to what they have to say? Are we compassionate, understanding and whenever necessary forgiving? This is surely true almsgiving.
Prayer is, of course, our turning towards God. While we can all know what it is we may have given up, many people find it harder to come up with a Lenten resolution that will help them in their prayer. Perhaps we need to set aside a fixed amount of time for our conversation with God each day. It might help to get hold of a copy of Magnificat so that we can reflect on the readings and prayers of the Mass and so make our prayer more liturgical. Perhaps we simply need to empty our pockets and wallets and talk to God about the things we find there: the reminders of our daily living!
We should never lose sight of the fact that at the end of Lent what counts isn't how successful we've been keeping off the television or the chocolates. What counts is how much we've grown in our relationship with Christ.