One day, my family and I were playing with magnatiles and blocks. I told my kids that I was going to build a massive building. They were wowed by the idea of massive. My little (two-year-old) separated colors and passed small blocks to my bigs (seven- and eight-year-olds). My two bigs started taking those smaller color sorted blocks and built bigger blocks, providing me with these blocks to use in my massive structure.
This little assembly line of creation continued for 30-plus minutes. The infrastructure is living up to its original plan. It was massive. I happened to glimpse at the faces of my kids and my bigs looked mesmerized and my little one had a mischievous glare, intrigued by the structure but I could see her mind working. What I saw in her mind was identical to the retro video game “Rampage,” she wanted to destroy it. My thought was, “Baby girl, don’t do it. Baby don’t you dare.” She inched herself closer. Baby why can’t you listen to my inner monologue demands? … “Oh wait,” I say, “Baby, don’t you do it.” She responded with no words but a smirk. A smirk that communicated, “Dad, you silly little daddy, of course I am going to do it.” Then my little girl became a Neanderthal. “Blocks-go-down … YAY.” A swift aggressive kick destroyed our massive perfectly constructed building. What was my intention behind this time with my kids? Was it to build something big or spend some special time with my kids? Was this about the structure or about love?
I thought of this story as I listened to a podcast that was shared with me in my men’s group about Lent and our sacrifices (the “Catholic Gentleman”). We are only two weeks into Lent and our Lenten sacrifices have either been riding the fail train or flying high in the first class of success. Either way, we need to examine why we chose what we did. Often this annual event is treated as such; an event that happens once. I’ve heard Easter called the Super Bowl for Catholics. Nothing is further from the truth. If that was the case then it wouldn’t be Catholicism, it would be a Dualism event in which, yearly we celebrate the power of good conquering evil. Trust me when I say; Satan’s death never had or has a chance against God’s plan. They’re not equal in power.
Yet we use this event as a launch pad to self-help and diet incentives. During Lent, I am going to exercise (because I need to get into shape), give up chocolate or sweets (because I need to lose weight) or give up social media (because I can’t stand the drama anyway), or give up alcohol (because I am going to prove, I can do it). Finally, there is the need to give up sin. Now before we judge and say to ourselves, “Um, duh, sin should always be given up,” let’s consider that a low percentage of Catholics today, truly embraces the teachings of the Catholic Church. Their giving up sin is what they know of sacrifice.
So we meet them there. But even giving up gossip, saying the Lord’s name in vain, intentionally missing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, looking at pornography or films that lead to impure or adulterous thoughts, can be done through the covenant of self-mastery with polar plunge mentality: I will run in, take a dip in the uncomfortable and shiver for a little and go back to my warmth and comfort.
What if I were to propose a perspective change, and invite all Catholics to not make Lent an event about themselves but make this Lent a pilgrimage about Jesus? By definition a pilgrimage means traveling to a destination to experience God in a unique way.
The end game of Lent is not to slim down, bulk up, be more productive, or kick a bad habit. The end game is to experience God in a unique way via following Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
When Jesus cleanses the temple it says, “Zeal for His house consumed Him. When He was confronted by the Jewish people who asked: “What sign can you show us for doing this?”, He responded, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews said, ‘This temple has been under construction for 46 years, and you will raise it up in three days?” But He was speaking about the temple of His body”(Jn 2:19-21).
While listening to the “Catholic Gentleman,” the guest, Devin Schadt, noted that it was man who built the temple 46 years and God “will raise it up in three days.” Our Lenten journey is 46 days. Forty-six days of getting comfortable, getting uncomfortable before the triduum Jesus restores us.
My two-year-old destroyed the block structure but she did exactly what my intention was to begin with. My intention was to make memories with my kids. To be their daddy who played and laughed, and not just worked, served, and structured. My intention was to love my kids in a way they wanted love. And not how I wanted to love them.
As she kicked, my frustration turned into joy and I cheered her on. Then my bigs built more for her to kick down.
I invite everyone (self-included) to not make an event of Lent but allow it to be transformed into a pilgrimage towards the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Don’t build for yourself, build so as to build up the body of Christ in this world. So that His many parts can function united, acting more and more like Jesus. Exercise, diet, give up drinks, social media, gossip, and even sin but not for your sake, but for the sake of His sorrowful passion.
Anchor columnist Oscar Rivera Jr., is director of Youth Ministry in the diocesan Secretariat for the New Evangelization. email@example.com.