Last Lent you may have seen Stephen Colbert’s bit on Ash Wednesday (see the video at the bottom). The broadcast opens on Colbert with ashes on his forehead. “The ash on my forehead is a Christian symbol of sacrifice, penance, and mortality,” he began. “It’s basically the hand-stamp for God’s nightclub.” The focus of the piece was on what he would be giving up for Lent:

“It’s traditional for every Catholic to give up something that is important to him … It’s got to be something that means something big to them, something that really matters, something that would be painful for them to do without. So, for the next 40 days, I am giving up Catholicism.”

This made me think. Stephen Colbert is actually a pretty devout Catholic. He attends Mass regularly, defends the faith, and teaches Sunday school. Catholicism is very important to me as well. What would it be like to “give up” Catholicism for 40 days?
I suppose I could stop going to Mass. Stop receiving any sacraments. I could stop praying. I wouldn’t have to pay attention to Church teaching whatsoever. And forget the Bible. Basically I’d stop practising anything having to do with my faith tradition. That would be a huge sacrifice. Whether you’re Catholic or not, if your faith’s an important part of your life how would it feel to just obliterate it?
I remember one evening on retreat when I was in the chapel praying in front of the tabernacle, which contains the Blessed Sacrament (which Catholics believe is the true presence of Christ), I noticed that the sanctuary candle had burnt out. (The candle indicates the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, or Eucharist, in the tabernacle). I thought to myself, What if there was no Eucharist? What if there was no church? Or that it all just faded away? I felt very saddened at the thought that my faith tradition which had led me to where I was, and to a strong relationship with Jesus, could just disappear. I would feel empty without the sacraments and the rituals and my fellow believers.
The truth is, my Catholic faith informs my life. And while I can take issue at times with certain things the Church teaches or the way it responds to events or crises, I love Catholicism and its deep tradition and history and diverse spiritualities. So instead of giving up something for Lent, maybe it’s worth reflecting instead on what it would be like to give up something you hold dear to your heart, like your religious tradition, or the Bible, or the sacraments, or prayer, or a church community. You’re right, Stephen, it would be painful.

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Stephen Gives Up Catholicism for Lent
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Update: Here’s what Colbert is giving up this year.