What did you give up for Lent?
“Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” said the priest at St. Anthony’s Church as he drew a black cross on my forehead. As a child, it all seemed mysterious and a mark of holiness to see a black cross on my forehead when I looked in the mirror. This ritual occurred on Ash Wednesday, and the lines of people walking down the center aisle to get ashes were endless.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, or Cuaresma, a word referring to the number 40, the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, counting only weekdays and not Sundays. Non-church-goers felt perfectly at ease going up to the altar to receive their ashes as the call was for sinners to repent, and we all fit that category. Cuaresma reminded us of Christ fasting for 40 days in the wilderness, suffering, praying and being tempted by Satan before He began his earthly ministry.
What did you give up for Lent? This question took over our minds, as we struggled with ways to show how much we were willing to suffer. We, Latinos, take quite quickly to suffering, as we have often taken the brunt of hardships due to injustice and discrimination. There is always someone in the family labeled la sufrida, a woman who has put up with a violent husband, or swindlers for children, or a host of other sufferings, and has endured it all. “Se aguantó,” (she endured) family would say, through her faith, sheer will or not having anywhere else to go.
Most of the kids I knew chose to give up gum or candy. It was a hard choice, but one that actually benefited us. None of us ever went to a dentist and we had no sense of dental hygiene, nor the fact that our teeth were connected to our gums and everything needed care. I would wager that we all have missing teeth as adults. Another popular thing to give up was cussing. That was hard, but it also led us to come up with very creative ways to say things when we yelled at each other in anger. No one that I knew ever gave up tortillas, or rice, beans or carne asada on a daily basis. On Fridays during Lent, we all fasted from meat, but made up for the loss on the weekends.
There was a huge plus to Cuaresma, and that was capirotada, the rich bread pudding baked in the oven or steamed in a pot. Each cook had her own mysterious way of preparing this delightful dish but, nowadays, the mystery has been unraveled via the Internet and ingredients are listed as: stale bread, raisins, nuts, apple slices, cinnamon, anise, cloves, egg yolks, milk, a pinch of salt and sprinklings of lemon and orange juice. Some cooks spread this mixture over a tortilla, others just set it in a baking dish. Capirotada made up for all the candy we had given up.
What is it about suffering that is redemptive? This I have never understood, but I do know that suffering tests us; it makes us take a look at who we are and what we are doing and, more importantly, where our hearts are. Are we all about finding easy pleasure? I’ve learned that it’s not what you suffer, but how you suffer it that makes you holy. What you give up for Lent is not as important as loving yourself and others through life’s worst sufferings, ultimately realizing that joy, your own Easter Sunday, is at the end of it all.
Stella Pope Duarte was born and raised in South Phoenix. She began her award-winning career in 1995 after she had a dream in which her deceased father told her that her destiny was to become a writer. Contact her at stellapopeduarte.com.