I am not Catholic. Having said that, I feel perfectly comfortable exploring the vast mystery of Lent. Today, I was listening to a very interesting essay about Lent on NPR. Perhaps you heard it. I believe it was on All Things Considered.
Basically, a guy (a Catholic guy) was sitting in a bar with his Jewish college buddies several weeks before Lent. Somehow, the topic of Lent came up and he explained that you choose to give up something sort of as a representation of penance. He went on to explain that you are spiritually preparing for Easter, blah, blah, blah. His Jewish friends were fascinated by this, but they thought it was odd that folks would choose their own penance. "Wouldn't it make more sense," one of them wondered, "if someone else chose your penance for you?"
This fellow thought about it and realized... yes, that does indeed make a lot of sense. After all, if you WANT the cross to bear, it isn't much of a cross to bear, is it? So he agreed to let his buddies pick what he would sacrifice during that upcoming Lent.
His buddies went easy on him. They deliberated over many things, and threw out beer as a possibility right away, because after all, giving up beer would be impossible. Finally, they decided he should give up orange soda, which was what he subsisted on normally for those late night study sessions.
How brilliant is this? If you are going to celebrate Lent, what a great idea to have a friend choose for you! What a real challenge that would be. It worked so well for this guy, that his buddy called him every year way past college to tell him what his penance was that year. (One year, it was oregano, which must have been kind of like telling someone not to eat salt.)
Anyway, I'm not a super-religious person, but I certainly see how this sort of exercise could be spiritually rewarding. So since I don't actually observe Lent myself, let me know if you would like me to tell you what you should give up for the next six weeks. I'm happy to do it!