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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Sacrificing sugar for Lent

Published: February 27, 2009
Section: Opinions

Over break, I spent most of my time rocking out to Taylor Swift with my seven-year-old brother (we like “You Belong With Me” and, of course, “Love Story”). But aside from that sad and frequent display, I cooked. I cooked a lot (want some muffins?). I have two large, lovely burns on my hand from some difficult brownies. But it was wonderfully cathartic, tasting yummy batter and pretending I was doing chemistry with my cocoa powder and my baking soda. And most importantly, I indulged in one of my ultimate passions before Lent. For now, I will not make or eat a single sugary treat, in an effort to prove that I appreciate Jesus’ suffering.

Yes, ‘tis the season of reflection, repentance, and self-denial. After Lent begins, Catholics are supposed to give up something very dear to them until Easter. This abstinence usually involves chocolate or Facebook. And no sex or drinking is just assumed. I am giving up my typical source of stress relief. Hopefully, this self-imposed restriction will go better than giving up compulsive spending, Terry Pratchett books, or Baked Lays Ruffled Potato Chips.

Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, officially marking the start of this liturgical season. Maybe you saw people walking around with black smudges on their foreheads (sexy, right?). These ashes come from last year’s Palm Sunday palms. They are sometimes mixed with holy water or oil, but mostly just applied by the priest to one’s forehead. I have heard some differing accounts of why we wear the ashes, but both my super-catholic-y friend Shannon and Wikipedia say that they are supposed to remind us of that ashes to ashes mentality of which the Church is so fond. In Mass, the priest may say “Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris,” because Latin is sexy. The nice thing is that because the ashes are sacramentals (like blessed accessories), not sacraments (big important acts that impart grace onto the participants), anyone, not just Catholics, can receive them as long as they are used in a Church-approved manner to inspire devotion and reflection.

Ash Wednesday actually holds an unpleasant but important meaning for me. It was this time, two years ago, that I started thinking that maybe I wanted to rejoin the fold after my years of angry adolescent atheism. One of my very best friends (who later became a boyfriend who is now an “It’s Complicated”) came into my high school with the ashes. He had gotten up at 5 a.m. to attend morning services before school, like the impressively devout guy he is. For no reason at all, I started railing on him about his head being dirty, and how could he not see it. So you had some man in a dress smear dirt on your forehead because some imaginary creature in the sky wants you to? Sadly, I usually act immature around guys I like, but here I went above and beyond: this unpleasantness on my part lasted all day, and I just kept getting angrier and angrier. The worst part is that I had no idea why I was so angry, why I was lashing out at this poor guy whose only crime was his willingness to profess his faith in front of me. Upon reflection (that’s the point of the ashes after all), I decided it was actually jealously that was causing my wrath. Jealousy over the fact that this guy could do things like wear the ashes, without shame or fear of the response it could engender, because he had faith.

Understand that I was raised Catholic. My mother is Catholic, my father was baptized Greek Orthodox, raised a Protestant (poor guy), and then converted to Catholicism for my mother. All through my childhood, I was a good little papist. I went to mass