In recent days, since Ash Wednesday, the subject of giving up something for Lent has come up a few times in conversations at work and at home. It has also been the subject of a number of blogs and homilies that I have read or heard. Since it was discovered that one of the things I have given up for Lent is the television quite a number of people have made comments to me about it. My daughter even jokingly commented at my son's birthday celebration last night as to why I was in the room with the rest of the family when the TV was on. When you live in a small house there are not too many places one can go to avoid the rest of the people. Besides, being with family is more important. We should not be so legalistic as to neglect the important people in our lives. But, we also need to know that fasting is important.
Deacon Greg Kandra at the Deacon's Bench wrote:
Part of what we do during Lent is we do without: we fast, we give up meat on Fridays, we offer up something as a sacrifice. In our way, in doing that we venture into the desert, like Jesus did in the gospel. We strip ourselves of what we like, what we find enjoyable or comfortable. We don’t do it really to build character. We do it to discover our character – to see anew – or HEAR as if for the first time – just who we really are.Stripping away some of the distractions of life, we are forced to confront ourselves.
My giving up the television has certainly caused me to confront myself. I am a TV addict, although I am a lot better than when I was younger. Back in the day I could watch sitcoms all night. Now I find myself watching HGTV, old movies, and some reality shows. No I'm not a Jersey Shore or Real Housewives type of person, but I do find Hoarders fascinating, perhaps because it makes me feel so much better about my own housekeeping efforts, or lack of them. These past few days without the television have been difficult and I find myself sitting in the living room staring at that big black rectangle hanging on the wall. Isn't there something better in life?
Ahh, there is the key to fasting, to giving up things. We fast to discover what is really important in our lives. We deny ourselves to find out what we really hunger for, who we really hunger for.
But fasting alone does nothing. We must accompany our fasting with prayer and acts of charity. But I have heard it said, what good is giving up things or doing things for Lent only to go back to our old ways come Easter. The purpose of our Lenten discipline is to change who we are. To bring us closer to being the person God calls us to be.
Not watching TV is allowing me to focus on my new writing project, to spend more time in prayer, and in real conversation with people. It allows me to "turn off" all the background noise that I found was really serving no purpose in my life. Will I watching TV at all during Lent? Sure, in fact I did watch mid-morning prayer with Cardinal Dolan yesterday, but I took the opportunity to pray along with those assembled at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Will I watch the Academy Awards tonight? I don't know. If I want to be legalistic and minimalistic about it, Sunday technically isn't a fast day. But, I haven't been to the movies all year so don't know the films, and do I really need to see what everyone is wearing on the red carpet? Perhaps if an important news event happens I'll watch it.
One of the purposes of fasting is to make a change in our lives. To redirect our focus. Perhaps I won't find the television so important anymore or stop using it as a means to just pass the time. Who knows, it's a long Lent and it's just begun.