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This Lent I’m going to make a big sacrifice

Looking back at my New Year’s resolutions is profoundly disheartening. At least I get another chance at self-discipline

By on Friday, 4 March 2011

A monk at Downside used to deny himself marmalade (Photo: PA)

A monk at Downside used to deny himself marmalade (Photo: PA)

How are you doing with your New Year’s resolutions? I found mine yesterday on a crumpled piece of paper, which was profoundly disheartening. “Read one book every two weeks,” said the first. Yikes. I’ve read one and a half in eight weeks (William Hague’s biography of Pitt the Younger just wasn’t doing it for me). “Exercise three times a week,” dictated the second. Not even close. In January, I went to a local gym with my housemate’s “friend pass”, and vowed never to visit the place again. If there’s a more soul-sapping invention than the cross-trainer, I’m yet to discover it. The final one was especially ambitious: “Write 2,500 words a week, minimum.” Alas, I haven’t found the time.

The trouble is, I set the bar far too high. So – true to my Catholic roots – I have failed again and only feel a bit guilty. But there’s always 2012.

Or there’s Lent! Not that it’s something to get excited about, but at least I can have another crack at the self-discipline which my Benedictine education plainly failed to instil in me. What to give up?

I remember being put on the spot over Lenten resolutions at school. One of the housemasters asked every boy in his sitting room to name what he had given up. “Food from the vending machines, Sir”, “beer”, “computer games” – and then he turned to me. “Er… I haven’t really chosen anything,” I mumbled. But Ash Wednesday had passed, and he didn’t give up that easily. “Come on, there must be something, Heaven.” The room fell silent. “Well,” I replied, thinking fast, “um… I have decided, for the whole of Lent, to pray every day for about 10 minutes.” He was suitably impressed – phew.

This year, I don’t have a persistent housemaster to prompt me. So I had a quick look online. “What to give up for Lent,” I typed into Google. The first website I looked at gave me some tips. “You should deprive yourself of something that is meaningful during Lent,” it said, and “should consider giving up an activity for Lent, like reading the tabloids”.

The internet preacher continued: “Give up something for Lent that will actually be a sacrifice for you. It may be fun to give up crisps for Lent but that’s probably not a big deal for you.”

Hmm. Something new, a real sacrifice… but I couldn’t give up reading tabloids (for work reasons, I hasten to add). And what’s wrong with giving up crisps? A Downside monk I knew used to give up marmalade for Lent – so judging by that example I hardly need to start looking for a cilice.

Before deciding, I recalled one other piece of small-print they forget to teach you at Catechism class: each Sunday, during Lent, you are supposed to purposefully break your resolution, in order to celebrate the fact that it’s a feast day. At least, that’s what I was told by one RS teacher.

I’m not sure that’s entering into the spirit of Lent, though. When Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert, he didn’t eat for 40 days without a break. Are there different rules for us?

I’m going to assume not. This year, for Lent, I will give up something for all of 40 days. A resolution which, unlike those I made at the New Year, I can keep. You might scoff, but friends and family know my real addiction. Cheese. No cheese for Lent. Goodness, I’ve set the bar too high again, haven’t I?

Will Heaven is assistant comment editor of the Daily Telegraph

  • R Brown

    No, Will, it is wrong to fast on any Sunday as it the weekly feast of the Resurrection. That is why Lent is, end to end, longer than 40 days, as only the days other than Sunday are counted. We also have to beware of seeking ‘success’ in fasting. The true success in Lent is realising how utterly weak we are compared to Christ, and how utterly in need of his strength and his grace.

  • Anonymous

    You could give up writing your loony right wing nonsense which most Catholics treat as a complete joke.