When I was growing up, I hated Lent. Lent always seemed so heavy. It just wasn't any fun. For me, it seemed like six weeks of suffering and I certainly didn't want to suffer. It didn't help that some people took great delight in rubbing it in. My home parish was in the crypt of Sacred Heart Basilica on Notre Dame's campus (I know it's odd that my home parish was a crypt but that is a story for another day). I remember that the old Holy Cross associate pastor used to say on Christmas Day, "Enjoy yourselves now; Lent is just around the corner". Wow, he was like the Grinch who stole Christmas!
Lent started out bad enough on Ash Wednesday because I hated fasting. Psychologically, the fasting got to me because I would be starving all day long even though I took my two half meals and one full meal. Things got worse because all throughout Lent I had to have fish on Fridays. That was a particular torture, since I would rather eat just about anything else but fish. Things only got worse throughout Lent as I had to give up soda, candy, desserts and all of the other little culinary delights of life, so that I could give the money I saved to the poor. And then there was the dreaded Lenten Penance Service in school. Oh, I hated coming up with my list of sins. I'd be a nervous wreck by the time I entered the confessional, babbling like a brook. Ugh, I could hardly wait to get to Easter. Nothing was better than hearing those Alleluias on Easter morning and coming home from Mass to a delicious honey baked ham dinner and an Easter basket full of candy. Now that was heaven!
Of course as I got older, I began to have a bit of a different perspective on Lent. Now, I can't say that I've grown to love it, but I have come to appreciate its usefulness to my spiritual life. Lent has helped me realize that I am not the center of the universe, that my life is not about me, but about trying to do the will of the One who loves me so much that He is willing to suffer and die for me and my salvation. The small sacrifices of Lent, the fasting, the ashes, the almsgiving, the penance all strip away the distractions of my life and allow me to really concentrate on what God is doing in my life and in the world. I still can hardly wait to hear those Alleluias on Easter morning and love coming home to that honey baked ham and my Easter basket of goodies. But, that's the way it should be because the agony of the Cross always leads to the glory of the resurrection.
Fr. Tony Szakaly, C.S.C. is the local superior of the Holy Cross community at Stonehill College, Director of Campus Ministry, and Alumni Minister at Stonehill College. A South Bend native, he received a Holy Cross education at every level of his schooling, from the C.S.C. sisters in grade school, the C.S.C. brothers in high school and C.S.C. priests at the University of Notre Dame. He took final vows in 1991 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1992.