These last two weeks of Lent are rife with what I sometimes think of as the Pop-Tart (tm) temptation. For me this temptation starts when we've given up desserts and sweets for Lent, but still crave sugar. On Sunday or the two big feasts we've just enjoyed (St. Joseph's day and the Annunciation feast) we may have indulged in a little bit of dessert-eating; but now we find ourselves facing the two final, holy, solemn weeks of our six-week journey.
The Lenten sacrifices and practices we adopted at the beginning, full of enthusiasm, have begun to grow wearisome. We may have found it necessary given our circumstances in life to curtail some of them (e.g., the mom of many who could not fulfill her vocation while still keeping her promise to read the entire Bible and pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary daily during Lent); we may have taken upon ourselves more than we could ever hope to fulfill.
So in those final two weeks, that Pop-Tart (tm) temptation looms large; those sacrifices and prayers that remain to us are still feeling like too much, and we're getting tired as we journey toward Golgatha.
What is the Pop-Tart (tm) Temptation?
As I said above, imagine you gave up desserts for Lent. During weeks one through four you've been pretty good about it, but now you find yourself really craving that sugar.
And that's when you notice the box of Pop-Tarts (tm) in the cabinet.
You told the kids they were allowed to have these with their breakfasts, even though they're quite sweet--cereal is getting pricey, and even when you cook them some eggs or oatmeal and toast they're still hungry, because unlike their mother they are not wholly allergic to mornings and have been known to warm up leftovers for breakfast (and not just pizza; Hatchick wondered the other day if it was okay to have fish for breakfast).
You haven't, however, handed out Pop-Tarts (tm) as an afternoon snack, because at that point they're clearly a cookie substitute. You may have slipped up once or twice and eaten one before bed without thinking, but now you're really trying to be good, and to live according to both the letter and the spirit of your Lenten resolutions.
But maybe your husband is working really, really late. And maybe you've had a frustrating sort of day. And maybe you start rooting around in the cabinets looking for a snack, since you weren't in the mood to eat dinner at dinnertime. And maybe you see the Pop-Tarts (tm) and start to create lists of rationalizations in your head:
- Pop-Tarts (tm) aren't dessert; they're breakfast.
- I never have them for breakfast anyway, so I could have one now.
- I really need the sugar to stay awake until my husband gets home.
- I could use the energy; then I could get the laundry folded and clean the kitchen while I'm waiting for him to get here.
- I didn't really eat any dinner, anyway.
- I don't like them all that much, so they're not really a "treat" for me.
- There's nothing else to snack on; the kids have gone through the chips and pretzels like locusts through a prairie state again, and I don't feel like washing an apple or cooking vegetables at this hour.
- God won't really mind; it's not like I'm having pie.
You see how this works for other sacrifices, too: the person who gave up golf may start thinking a trip to the putting range doesn't really count; the person who gave up going to the movies may think a dollar theater on a weeknight isn't really included in his intentional sacrifices; the person who gave up manicures may argue that her high-level meeting really demands the kind of "professionalism" that has to be reflected in one's nail polish; the person who gave up watching broadcast television may go on a Netflix frenzy and be glued to the screen even more than usual.
So much of Our Lord's Gospel message is about perseverance. It isn't that a little slip here and there in our voluntary sacrifices makes us terrible people; it's that we have to strengthen ourselves for our own hour of suffering, for that hour when we will turn away from what is right because what is right is terrible and grim, and what is wrong seems easy and pleasant. Jesus wasn't unreasonable; He didn't fuss at the apostles for falling asleep in Gethsemane because He didn't know what it was like to eat a really full meal and then be overtaken by drowsiness; but He knew that they needed to be stronger to endure the hour that was about to come upon them, His hour, the hour for which He came into the world. As it was, they weren't strong enough. One of them betrayed Him, ten of them scattered, and only St. John was able to endure the sight of the suffering and dying Lord.
When we stay focused these last two weeks, when we renew our commitments and prayers, when we put the Pop-Tarts (tm) back in the cabinet and wash the danged apple, we're not only pleasing Him. We're becoming spiritually stronger, deepening our faith, opening ourselves up to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that in our own hours of pain, suffering, temptation, when we feel lost, abandoned, adrift in a sea of doubt--we will be able to accompany St. John to the Cross, gaze upon His broken Body, and whisper, "Yes, Lord. I believe!"