With school out, students try to stay true to Lent

Decadent spring breaks clash with the holy season

March 09, 2003|By Akilah Johnson | Akilah Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Midterms are over and spring break is coming, but Joe Boskovich still has one test left. Can he travel to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, later this month, spend four days partying with hordes of shot-downing, skin-baring female students and just say no?

He's not sure.

Boskovich, 22, a senior who is a member of the University of Southern California football team, said he debated with himself for weeks before deciding to give up hard alcohol for Lent, the 40-day Christian season of repentance.

"Two years ago, I gave up alcohol, and I was miserable for 40 days," he said. As he debated, he told himself: "I won't have as much fun, but I'll be a better person."

Eventually, he decided to go ahead. For the next few weeks, he'll be spending Tuesday nights - the night he usually visits a campus watering hole - helping at his church's homeless ministry, he said.

Then he realized that spring break is during Lent. Pulling this off, he said, will be a tremendous test of his faith.

Many students will face similar tests over the next few weeks. Experiencing the freedom of living away from their parents for the first time, many students find that Lent is a time to make decisions about the importance of faith and the difficulty of applying it in their lives.

"The real project for the undergraduate students is making the faith that they grew up in, which is their parents' faith, their own," said the Rev. Thomas Rausch, head of theology at Loyola Marymount University. "We have some who are totally oblivious to the fact that it's Lent and others going to campus Masses daily."

Loyola freshman Whitney McCormick, 18, said she will "do a nice deed a day - even the smallest thing like holding the door open for somebody who has their hands full."

McCormick, a sociology major, also gave up soda, red meat and potato chips, a common practice since it's customary for Catholics to refrain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and each Friday of Lent.

"Giving up something that you really love helps you look beyond the materialistic things," she said. "It makes you evaluate what's important, to be grateful for what you have because sometimes we take advantage of what we have without realizing it."

The 40-day length of Lent is patterned after the biblical account of Jesus' withdrawal into the wilderness before his death and resurrection.

The idea behind the traditional practice of giving something up is that the sacrifice is an "external sign of internal conversion," Rausch said.

And for hard-partying, technology-savvy college students that means everything from Xboxes to Bacardi.

Julia Falkone, 20, a political science and international relations major, said she would probably do something cliched like say no to soda. A more serious sacrifice, she said, would be going without her daily dose of a Web site that features episode recaps and commentary on more than 40 popular television programs.

The sophomore from Reno, Nev., says her favorite show is The West Wing. The NBC Emmy-winning show is "my lame addiction," she said.

Simply forgoing frivolous vices such as chocolate or movies is an insincere gesture that goes against what Lent is about, Rausch said.

But when students make sincere sacrifices that show their devotion to God, that can help define the meaning of the season, he said.

Sara Madge, 21, a USC English major from San Francisco, said that for years she gave up chocolate and carbonated beverages for Lent because she thought that was simply what Catholics did.

After she started college, she said, she realized her sacrifices had been in vain.

Denying herself soft drinks was not leading her to feed the hungry or clothe the naked. Instead, she was just giving something up because "my mom made me," she said.

So Madge decided to stop giving up things for Lent and started exemplifying her faith through everyday activities.

"I need to focus on adding more positive things to my life than taking away."

Akilah Johnson is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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