A couple of weeks ago at the start of Lent, there were conversations in at least one local office that involved the annual question — “What are you giving up?”
It seems the Lenten season has become synonymous with walking away from bad habits or turning our backs on some activity — or food or pleasure — that we usually enjoy. Lent has always meant sacrifice in the tradition of fasting and almsgiving, and that is as it should be. In fact, in last week’s edition of The Record, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz noted the importance of almsgiving, and suggested establishing a personal Lenten budget for just such an effort.
So Lent can be more than “giving up” that which we enjoy or appreciate. In fact, a case can be made that “giving up” something is often the easier route to take each Lenten season. It can be easier to walk away from a bad habit for a few weeks than to commit to some positive action — such as the personal budget — that could have a lasting, life-long effect.
For instance, let’s consider a brief list of things that we, as a nation or a society, have “given up” in our recent history. Let’s think about things we’ve abandoned, not because of mission or integrity or strength of character, but because their abandonment may well have presented the easier path.
We’ve “given up” the moral high ground in international relations by admitting that we’ve tortured some of our captured enemies. Some have abandoned any anti-torture position even further by providing verbose excuses for our behavior. We refuse to officially call it torture, for example. It’s “enhanced interrogation,” and now, by presidential order, it is supposed to be a practice we have left behind. We can only hope.
We’ve also “given up” the pretense of being a peace loving nation in the eyes of the rest of the world by continuing to conduct much of our foreign policy at the point of a spear — or perhaps more accurately, beneath the wings of a pilotless, armed drone.
In recent years the use of drones to attack our enemies — and in some mistaken cases wedding parties, funeral processions and other non-combatant gatherings — has dramatically increased. According to both the New York Times and the Washington Post, the Obama administration has launched far more drone strikes than its predecessor, the administration of George W. Bush.
We also seem to have “given up” our moral responsibility to be good stewards of the earth. We’ve abandoned, despite the often vocal protests of a few, the responsibility we have to clean up our air and water. That we’re even considering building an oil pipeline across the heart of the nation, and on top of one of our most important aquifers, gives testimony to the depth of our disregard for the environment.
And it goes without saying that we’ve abandoned any semblance of decorum, and in a few cases ethics, at the heart of government both nationally and locally. We’ve traded in dialogue and debate for rancor and sound-bite rabble rousing. We preach to those who agree with us; we refuse to consider holding common-sense discussions with those who don’t.
It may be too late to change the course of debate in the nation’s capitol. It certainly looks that way from our position here in the provinces. But it’s not too late to take some personal steps this Lenten season to bring ourselves, one at a time, closer to what God intends for us.
In addition to the promises and sacrifices to which we’re already committed, let’s take some positive steps for good during the remainder of the season. Let’s live out Pope Benedict XVI’s Lenten message, the one in which he called on us to “acknowledge our responsibility toward those who, like ourselves, are creatures and children of God.”
Let’s resolve to donate more to charities or to services for those people who need our help. Let’s practice random acts of kindness, little gestures that might cause some stranger to think “well, wasn’t that nice?”
As the Holy Father said, “let us be concerned for each other … (let us) stir a response in love and good works.”
If all of us managed to do the little things, one at a time, we’d soon find ourselves living the Gospel message. And little by little, bit by bit, one small act of kindness after another, we’d make the world a better place.