I recently heard that inevitable question I hear annually around this time… “What did you give up for Lent?” It’s a question we Catholics hear more often than “Does this wedding count as Mass?”

I admit that religion isn’t exactly the perfect topic for a humor column. Some of you may have already tuned out. Many people seem to avoid the subject because they automatically assume that someone who has any particular faith is going to shove it down their throats like others do with crappy American Idol music and gay cowboy movies. But there may be some of you who would like answers to some simple questions about Lent. If interested, read on.

What is Lent?
Lent is the 40-day period preceding Easter. It focuses on many traditional church practices that were born with the Vatican itself…things like charity, self evaluation, and backyard fish fries. All are equally important, but I do believe there’s an ongoing lobbying effort to canonize the creator of Long John Silver’s. (Canonization means sainthood, which as you can imagine is a big deal. It’s basically the Hall of Fame for Catholics, except voters give more credence to miracles and good works rather than home runs and tainted record books. Sidenote: Unless Barry Bonds goes to church and someone kills him while he prays, no martyr has ever used steroids.)

When does Lent begin?
Ash Wednesday, which always follows Fat Tuesday of Mardi Gras. That’s right, when you see thousands of drunks vomiting, urinating, and exposing themselves in the French Quarter, Easter’s coming.

Why do Catholics give something up during Lent?
By sacrificing something, we usually free up time to concentrate on neglected commitments, like philanthropy, prayer, and Gramma. Also, if what we give up is significant, we learn to suffer, re-appreciate life, and grow a little stronger. It holds true to the adage of not valuing what you have until it’s gone. This truism, of course, does not apply to everything…for example, Slobodan Milosevic and every pop star from the ’80s named Cory.

Is it acceptable to ask someone what they’ve given up for Lent?
Absolutely. But if the person tells you it’s personal, don’t press the issue as if you’re playing the $25,000 Pyramid. “Is it sex? Porn? It’s porn, isn’t it? Not porn? Um…booze? Gambling? Things you find in an attic. In a kitchen. Famous Joes. Wait… what was the category?”

I certainly don’t mind when people ask what I’ve given up for Lent. What I do mind is when people ask and then immediately provide what they think is the correct answer before I even have a chance to respond. For example, I recently heard this: “So what did you give up, Keith? Chocolate?”
This bothers me for two reasons:

  1. This person assumes that I eat too much chocolate and should cut back. I’m not sensitive, but that can be rather insulting. It’s like asking, “What did you ask to get for Christmas? An updated wardrobe?”
  2. Chocolate is considered by some as an obvious answer. Is it a popular thing to give up? I don’t know. But I do know that there’s no concrete way of knowing…there’s no Top 25 Things Catholics Give Up for Lent, featured on the cover of Papal Magazine. Even if there were such a list, nobody should reference it. It’s like reading a list of popular baby names in Maternity Magazine, then approaching new parents and asking, “So what’s her name? Elizabeth Hannah Appletini?” The mother would look at you weird and say, “No. It’s Chocolate.”

Do all Catholics give something up?
Most do, but I’m sure not everyone does. And personally, I think it’s better to not even bother than to make it appear like you’re participating. A friend of mine gave up…I’m not making this up…. Bolshevism. He’s not communist, he’s not even Russian. But he felt the need to give up something, so he picked that. I chuckled and suggested that next year he give up moon landings and time travel. He then told me that thought control sounded a bit Stalinist, and he therefore couldn’t accept any suggestions at this time.

Rather than choose what to give up, why not have someone pick a sacrifice for you?
Because Catholics are pro-choice. Wait…no, that’s not right. I was trying to say…come on…you know what I mean, for crying out loud! No angry emails, please.

Why no meat on Fridays during Lent?
To piss off the USDA.

What did you give up for Lent, Keith?
Crossword Puzzles. That may not sound like much, but if you know me, I sometimes toil over a puzzle for hours on end, only to realize the next day that I was off by about 25 letters. By giving up crosswords, I can now devote time to more important things, like Sudokus.

There’s your Lent lesson, kids. I don’t know if you are any more enlightened now, but I certainly hope so. If, by chance, you were the least bit offended by this column, please understand that I meant no disrespect. I truly believe that God has a sense of humor. If you wish to discuss, I’ll be at the wedding/Mass/fishfry on Friday. See you then, but don’t bring any chocolate.

Have a great Easter, everyone.

Categories: Columns