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March 9th, 2011
09:47 AM ET

Explain it to me: What's Lent? And what are you giving up?

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, the season when many Christians give something up in the weeks before Easter. It's a nod to Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the desert before beginning his ministry. 

Some folks are giving up Facebook. Others are cutting down on their carbon emissions.

Are you giving something up? If so, let us know - and explain your choice.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Easter • Holidays • Lent

soundoff (1,213 Responses)
  1. Casey

    I'm not giving up anything. Because I'm not a moron.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • M

      Because you're addicted to your vices and have no desire to exercise your self-control for your own personal growth? Yes, you are a moron.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Dave Blamey

      You sound like a moron to me with that statement.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • holly

      Wow, that's an open-minded and intelligent response.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Jenny

      um...very few mormons participate in Lent...Catholics, Methodists, and Episcopals usually participate...at least get your facts straight...

      March 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • William Hudson

      A moron? Really? we're trying to prepare ourselves to make us stronger as Jesus did. So are you calling Jesus a moron?

      March 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  2. Amazing_G

    Question: How many days belong to a year?
    Answer: 325; the rest are Lent.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  3. Mmhmm

    What am I giving up? Absolutely nothing.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  4. Catholic

    Wow, people are being very bigoted and offensive to Catholics on this forum. I respect other religions and I wish people would keep their derogatory comments about my faith to themselves.

    5 years ago I gave up fried food and never went back. This year I am giving up swearing and I hope the season of Lent has the same effect and I never curse again.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • lash

      I've noticed that too, do they consider hatred to be a pillar of there faith, what happened to genuine respect. As mother told us "If you can't say something nice don't say anything at all."

      March 9, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Dave

      I'm not bigoted and offensive to Catholics. I'm equal opportunity...I am bigoted and offensive to all religions. It's just that today is your turn.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • TheTruth72

      This is the society today where people are so selfish and ignorant that they have to put down everything. The rise of wickedness is upon us and it will only get worse until Jesus' return. Eventually this will turn into persecution, yes, even in America. Suffering has been with Christians since the beginning, so just be thankful that we suffer in Jesus' name.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • Jesusfreakazoid

      TheTruth72,

      Yes Christians have suffured over the ages. They suffured during the cruisades. They suffered during the inquisitions. Today they suffer in prison after being convicted of child molestation.

      March 9, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  5. ComfortablyAgnostic

    For the Scientific Crowd: Periodic fasting has been scientifically proven to extend life, and reduces body fat. There are other claims (that I have not found proof of) that say fasting provides clarity of mind, added physical strength (top athletes fast for performance reasons), and mood improvements.

    Apparently, the gastrointestinal system needs a break, on occasion, in order to operate optimally. It also forces the body to use stored fuel (fat) and kills off the older cells in our bodies – which is the explanation for the youthful appearance of those who fast.

    So, it looks like there is wisdom to Lent, which originally was about fasting.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Dave

      I fast at least once a year...for the 2 or 3 days of bowel prep before my yearly colonoscopy. Yup, god is just everywhere!

      March 9, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  6. New Jersey

    Good will to your fellow man and those who are less fortunate. Distribute the blessing that have been bestowed on you and share them with others. Its a great feeling.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  7. Valerie

    I gave up alcohol and caffeine....I am not a big "drinker" but the coffee being gone will be the hard part! Haha! For spiritual growth I vowed to recite the Rosary once a day, no excuses. Peace be with you all this season of Lent.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  8. P

    I was gonna give up being cynical and pessimistic – but then I said to myself, "What's the point, we're all gonna die anyway".

    March 9, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • TheTruth72

      And then we're all going to have to give an account of our lives to the Lord. "Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord". And don't tell me you think you can get by without bowing down. If your knee caps have to be broken, then so will it be.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  9. George

    A few years ago I asked a Catholic Priest (from another Parish that I am not a member of) "What should I give up for Lent?" His answer was: "Do an act of kindness to a total stranger and get nothing in return" I asked: "How the hell do I do that?" He said: "Events will present themselves to you" Boy was he right. It seemed for all of Lent I was changing tires along the road, carrying boxes into the Post Office, Holding doors and Umbrella's, catching peoples dogs, I can't tell you how many clothes I ruined. You name it, I was there. The people were so thankful. At the end of Lent I still felt the urge to help people when I saw them in need. It was just a simple jesture but made a difference in my life. Not all Ministers/Priests/Boy Scout Leaders are pedifiles, Most are very good people.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Cindy

      Thanks for sharing your lent story. It is very special.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • Dave

      I could use your help. I have to go to the men's room and my doctor warned me not to lift anything heavy.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • joe

      And that's the problem with Catholicism...do good/give up for 40 days and to hell with the rest of the year. Do your neighbor wrong, do your neighbors wife, cuss people, cut them off in your car, gossip constantly. And then when Ash Wednesday comes around...REPENT REPENT REPENT!!! and change your ways!

      March 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Gregory777

      Awesome that's what message we did to get across to EVERYONE. and most important keep doing that everyday after lent as well.

      God Bless

      March 9, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
  10. Dave

    Ever wonder why so many pessimists and avowed atheists show up in these blogs? They are obviously curious about what is lacking in their lives.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • TheTruth72

      Amen to that brother!

      March 9, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Dave

      Actually, I was more curious about is lacking in your life. Mine is fine.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • joe

      Because if more people called BS when they saw it, humanity wouldn't be in this mess to begin with. Instead, they follow rules written by man for man. They demons are on TV on Sunday morning. Look at the places of worship. What a crock.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  11. Jennifer

    So lots of venom about lent, but not one person just answered the question. You know, you don't have to swallow all of Christianity to take from it's symbolism to a more spiritual life. And it isn't just Catholics that observe lent. so anyway, in the spirit of the actual question, I have to say that I'm not sure and I'm taking the day to think about what I'm giving up. My cousin, the reverend, told me that it isn't just sacrifice, but a sacrifice that helps you feel closer to God, and enlivens your spirituality.

    Last year, I gave up shopping for ANY clothes or shoes. It may seem shallow to some, but I felt that I was just constantly feeling I had to compete and had a constant run on these particular material possessions. It was really liberating. After I did that, I did have a transformation. When I returned to being able to shop, I bought fewer things overall, and I took better care of them, and I appreciated them more, and I felt better in them.

    I feel like giving that up again this year would be redundant, and so I'm thinking of different things. Things that I tend to believe I rely on, but that if I really look at it, are not really serving me spiritually. Perhaps something to do with food as I do overeat, or something to do with the fact that I keep my life too busy, or perhaps something to do with my finances.

    I was kind of hoping to read what others were doing, just to spark my own ideas...

    March 9, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Gregory777

      It's not only what you give up but do something for someone else daily or weekly.
      It's so so rewarding you will find.

      God Bless

      March 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  12. oceanbear

    Why would I give up anything? Who cares? I forgot about Lent when I was 14! That was 64 years ago!

    March 9, 2011 at 11:49 am |
  13. lash

    Lent is a time which you can free yourself from the hatred and the insanity of our world. It is a time for prayer, a time for self examination and a time for spiritual purification. People make mistakes. Why can't people see the goods rather than the bads in the Catholic Church. Including the Knights of Columbus organization and what we do for our communities.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:48 am |
  14. Daisy

    If you read anything that is written by spiritual leaders on Lent, you would have found out that typically, one gives up something as a sacrifice (and something that I would have a hard time doing), to bring one's self closer to God. Let's say, I give up Facebook, I would be doing something that is a hard thing to do, but the time that I have then available, I am supposed to be volunteering or other things that are worthwhile. If I give up Starbucks, I then would put the money that I have saved from giving up the ridiculously expensive coffee into a fund to feed the poor. There is a minus (sacrifice) and a plus (service/charity) part of Lent. Many people only think it's about giving up something – which in and of itself isn't worth all that much.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Barb

      Very well said! And something to consider! Thanks!

      March 9, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Gregory777

      Well said you nailed it. AWESOME
      GOD BLESS

      March 9, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  15. lcresey

    I gave up believing in the supernatural for lent 5 years ago...what a difference it's made in my life!!

    March 9, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  16. Dave

    Let's see...giving something up. I wonder if all those Catholic Priest/pedophiles could give up molesting young children for Lent? Nah, it's gotta be something personal, right?

    March 9, 2011 at 11:46 am |
    • Dihan Fernando

      It is a disgrace to common sense if we believe in what you just wrote, just because you have the freedom to do so. Remember, there are 100,000 plus Catholic Priests in the United States alone and of that number, only a minute, approximately 30, have committed these heinous crimes against children. Being a parent of 2 your children, I would be devastated if my children were hurt by a predator. However, being a Catholic and knowing at least 200 plus Priests personally, I can tell you that your hate mongering against Priests is uncalled for and invalid. Catholic Priests are human beings and some of them chose to do wrong and that does not convict all Priests. Just like, there are variants in any organization, US Military, School Districts, etc., bad people who got into the the Catholic Church as Priests have had a very detrimental effect on the communities and the Church.
      This in no way means that the entire group of Priests are peadophiles or variants.
      It is a shame that you have to spread hate against people who have given their lives to serving the poor and helping people.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
  17. Sandy

    Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, explains Lent very well: "Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now. Lent is a summons to live anew."

    As for me, I will be giving up sweets, spending more time on my spiritual life and helping people. (The reason I give something up is because every time I want it and don't take it I am reminded that it is Lent, and I refocus my attention on all that I should be doing.)

    March 9, 2011 at 11:45 am |
    • Joe

      perfectly said. Thanks

      March 9, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • Cindy

      I love your comment. Have a great Lent. I am giving up meat and sodas. I grew up you always had no meat during lent and I have started not drinking sodas during lent because I shouldn't be drinking them anyway.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  18. Ben

    So it seems diversity and sensitivity is paramount to everyone and everything unless and except you happen to be a Christian believer(specific denominations aside). This is truly a sad and very sick world. We probably really should all try to get along but seriously I doubt that will ever happen. It just doesn't sell news and it's just not enough drama. God help you all.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:45 am |
  19. chris

    gave up fried food

    March 9, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  20. ggregory

    I’m hesitant to write, but if my comment helps one person… Though Mr. Gilgoff mentions that Orthodox Christians observe Lent, please, please, please understand that what’s presented in this clip is very foreign to the Orthodox mindset. First of all, we FAST during Lent – meaning the Church invites us to eat less amount and abstain mainly from meat and dairy products. We do not make up our own “sacrifices” (giving up “x”) but rather follow the guidelines (to the best of our abilities) established by Christians since the earliest times. The purpose of fasting is not to “offer” a sacrifice – there is only one sacrifice that counts, which is Christ’s on the cross. On the contrary, fasting can be seen more as a gift… Keep in mind how Lent concludes – with the resurrection of our Lord. The purpose of fasting is to sharpen our spiritual discipline, put aside worldly cares, pray more, and draw nearer to God – undoubtedly a benefit. Just as an athlete trains for months to discipline the body in order to run a marathon, fasting is the exercise of the soul. The athlete doesn’t “offer a sacrifice” by training, but it is what he or she has to do to achieve the goal of finishing the race. So it is with fasting. To paraphrase one writer;“if I can stop myself from having that juicy hamburger, I can stop myself from cursing the person who cuts in front of me in traffic.” The point of fasting is to condition and prepare oneself spiritually to experience fully and witness the risen Lord on Pascha (Easter).

    March 9, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • jann

      Beautifully put. Thank you.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • bp

      Very well stated, and I am not religious.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • A Non-Orthodox

      Amen. I'm Lutheran but what you've writen resonates with me deeply. I've do the "give up'x'" before and it never seems to have any purpose to me. What you've stated and the reasoning behind it make so much more sense to me.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • MCva

      Amen!

      March 9, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • JP

      Very well put and I'm as atheist as it gets. Some things just make sense no matter where the idea and the subsequent lessons derive from.

      March 9, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • rab

      Excellent. You hit it right on the head. God is what you believe in your soul and Lent is supposed to bring you closer to God in a human way of fasting or giving up your earthly wants.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Thanks

      I am Catholic and still don't just up x, and if and when i do i replace x with prayer and some way to get closer to God. Because that is the purpose of this 40day-journey. Thanks for writing.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Gegory777

      Amen. I'm Orthodox as well as I was tot thought years by my dad who is an Orthodox Priest Fasting is always important but not only to fast but to help other's especialy during lent. Explample feeding the homeless once week or just voluntary somewhere.
      And understand everything (material) we have doesn't me a darn thing in the in. It's all about our souls.

      GOD BLESS GOD BLESS GOD BLESS GOD BLESS .

      March 9, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • Sarah

      I'm always so angry by what is posted by both sides in religious arguments, people are so self-righteous and not open-minded at all. I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed your post and appreciate the information. What you've described is so much more meaningful to me than all those people who have "given up" things for what I feel are the wrong reasons. So thank you so much for being thoughtful and informative.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Observer

      Let me applaud you for your true and excellent interpretation/explaination of lent that was simple with appropriate analogies.

      March 9, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.