By: Mary Fran Bontempo

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MP900341560Well, it’s been almost a week now, and anyone who teaches at a Catholic grade school is surely feeling the pain.

Lent began last Wednesday, with the ever-uplifting distribution of ashes, the ceremony whereby a priest smears black soot in the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the Catholic faithful while reminding us that we’re basically dirt. In case a Catholic starts to feel too self- important, once a year, we’re branded, the phrase, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” delivered in a fittingly morose tone. This is especially good for children, who should be made aware from an early age that their bodies are destined to disintegrate.

To prolong the pain–after all, Lent lasts a solid forty days and no opportunity to suffer should be wasted–Catholics are urged to sacrifice and fast. Children are not exempt, and as Lent approaches, the question, “What are you giving up?” is debated with increasing urgency.

Of course, the answer is almost always the same–sweets. Every Catholic grade school kid on the planet gives up sweets for Lent, which explains why every Catholic grade school teacher is in for forty days of misery. Can you imagine an entire school of kids going through sugar withdrawal at the same time? Ugly doesn’t nearly describe it.

It does, however, explain why the teachers don’t have to give up anything–their Lenten penance is trying to survive the forty days with a classroom full of surly, snarling kids twitching in their seats and marking off their calendars in anticipation of Easter’s sugar high, delivered by chocolate eggs, Peeps and all manner of sweet confections.

As a child, I gave up sweets, too, and was so miserable by the end of Lent that I almost needed another forty days of penance to make up for my awful moods, inflicted on anyone within sulking distance. But I’m a big girl now, and as such, do you know what I’m giving up for Lent?


The way I see it, just getting through a day, let alone forty, is sacrifice enough, what with the regular allotment of crap we all have to wade through. If I make it to nightfall and I’m still standing, that’s testament enough to my faithfulness. Jesus doesn’t need to see me undergo a sugar withdrawal. Talk about redefining ugly. As for those who give up alcohol? Well, God bless you. But wine and chocolate are sometimes the only things standing between me and a one-way ticket to an asylum, so, um, no.

This Lent, I will count my blessings, and I may even go to church more often, but I won’t be giving anything up. Not any more. Not ever.

Oh, and I will be doing one more thing: praying for the teachers in Catholic grade school. They’re gonna need it.

What are you “giving up” for Lent? Click “comments” below and share!