Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ass Wednesday

Ah, the old Catholic tradition of walking around all day looking like the douchier sector of your friends tried to Hitler you and missed.

This day-long embarrassment is followed by 40 days of refusing to do something you enjoy and swarming Captain D's every Friday. Supposedly, the 40 day "sacrifice" is supposed to mimic the way Jesus chose to deal with his negative body image. He "fasted" in the for 40 days before starting his public ministry. Well, what else was he supposed to do? It's not like they had Spanx back then. Of course, not eating Hershey Kisses for 40 says obviously very comparable.

Then again, maybe giving up a food item is really just making up for all the donuts you ate on Fat Tuesday. How perfectly religious. Engorge yourself the day before making a minimal sacrifice, but still somehow convince yourself that the sacrifice has outweighed the engorgement and made you more holy. This is a whole set of customs I've never understood.

Even growing up in Catholic school, I thought this whole idea was, in a word, retarded. I didn't see how not doing something I liked made me love Jesus more or made me more like him. I usually would lie about giving something up, or I'd give something up for about two days and then go back to doing it. Though, bearing the sign of a true Catholic, I did feel guilty about it....not enough to stop, just enough to feel ashamed of myself.

I do distinctly remember a much better suggestion during one of the many Ash Wednesday services I was forced to attend. One priest said that giving up something in this land of plenty hardly showed our love of Christ or made us more Christlike. Anything we could give up would be a miniscule sacrifice by comparison. Instead, to become better Christians, indeed, better people, doing something proactive to help ourselves, each other, the community would be more purposeful and would more closely fit Christ's mission in life.

He suggested doing things that most people reserve for Christmas time. Donating money to charity, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, doing canned food drives. If we weren't healthy ourselves, we could exercise daily, start diets, which are like giving up candy for Lent, but then stay on them after Easter. If we had friends going through grief, to be there for them. He explained that the whole idea of self indulgent suffering was silly.

It was one of very few sermons that truly touched my heart, and as a kid who spent kindergarten through 8th grade in Catholic school, I heard a LOT of sermons (most of them sucked). What a great idea! Improving oneself! HELPING others! Surely, if Jesus (well, the figure of Jesus we were supposed to believe in) were alive today, he wouldn't want us sacrificing stupid things like bubblegum or individually wrapped peppermints. He'd want us building bridges together, helping each other, making ourselves better people, making the world a better place. I couldn't wait to get home and tell my mom this brilliant notion..

Of course, as a young child, ideas are usually squished by the nearest adult. I remember going home and having my parents be the sacrifice enforcers. I understand why they did. What a pain in the ass. We have to take our kids to go do something every day? No. They're already in softball, basketball, tennis, art club, and theatre. Plus, with my dad being out of town for work so much, this meant mom had to do it all. So, once again, I ended up sacrificing orange creamsicles and learned nothing of it, since the day after Easter, I'd doubtlessly be given whatever it was I had sacrificed for 40 days prior.

Despite my childhood inability to accomplish it, the idea remains solid. If you want to "celebrate" Lent and you believe Jesus a Ghandi+hair kind of guy, then don't give up ice cream, or dirty words, or masturbating. None of that makes you a better Christian human being and it's incredibly selfish to think it does. Giving to someone else is better than taking from yourself. And don't wait for the calendar to tell you when to do it! You could be doing this every day. Alas, if you need the calendar to tell you, then at least 40 days a year, you could do something good for humanity. Besides, if you're going to go around all day having everyone think you've been Hitlered, wouldn't you at least like to get a better sense of self from it? Otherwise, you've just spent a whole day looking like an ass. Pin It

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