We are four days into quaresima and Catholics around the world have begun abstaining from meat on Fridays and are giving up certain “pleasures” they enjoy. In the past I have given up sweets, which was hard because of my well-intending co-worker whose obligation it was to point out when I added sugar to my morning (and mid-morning, and afternoon) coffee. One year I gave up Mexican food, which was made harder by the fact that we chose that year to go to south Texas for Spring Break (a few miles from the Mexican border). One year I gave up cursing. Damn, that was hard. I have given up sodas, chips, talking badly about people, and french fries … which reminds me ….
Last year, I felt it was my God-Motherly obligation to educate my then-five-year-old nephew, Cole about the Lenten observance and sacrifice. I can see it clearly. We were on our way home from church. He was in the back seat of my little red Mercury Cougar, and I am pretty sure we had been listening to Uncle Kracker. I was driving. I turned down the CD and asked him if he knew what “Lent” meant. He did not.
If you knew Cole you would realize this was not a silly question. The child taught himself the Lord’s Prayer when he was four and memorized all of the Priest’s “lines” before his fifth birthday. I have been sprinkled with Sprite, only to realize I had just been “blessed.” The priest often waits on Cole to finish shaking hands with everyone during the “exchange of peace” before he can continue. He carries Dick and Jane raised above his head, reenacting the processional. He distributes “the body of Christ” at meals…The kid loves church. It would not have surprised me if he knew what “lent” was. But, he didn’t.
So, I told him. Our conversation went pretty much like this.
Me: “Do you know what Lent is?”
Cole: “No, what is it?”
Me: “It is when good Catholics give up something to remember what Jesus gave up for us.”
Cole: “What did Jesus give up?”
Me: “Uh, well, Jesus died for us, so all of our sins will be forgiven. So, we have to give up something for him. We give something up that we really like. Cici (that is what he calls me) is giving up candy. What are you going to give up?”
Cole: (without hesitation) “Candy.”
Me: “Are you sure? That is really hard, you don’t have to give up what Cici is giving up. You give up your own thing.”
Several moments of silence, then…
Cole: “Ok, Cici. I decided. I am giving up french fries.”
Me: “Wow, Cole. That is a big one. Are you sure you can do that?”
Cole: “Yes, I am sure. I am giving up french fries.”
So, being the good teacher, I ask him to recap….
Me: “So – what are you giving up?”
Cole: “I’m giving up French Fries!”
Me: “And, why are you doing it?”
Cole: “So Jesus can have ’em!”
uhh … not exactly ….
Cole continues: “I’m giving ’em up, and sending ’em all up to Jesus!”
And, he was good, too. One time he forgot and ate a french fry, only to spit it out in guilt. His mom ordered fast food for him one day before Church school (substituting tots for the fries), but didn’t double check the order. When they were too far to turn back she realized they had mistakenly put french fries in her order. She told Cole he could eat them anyway, because he had to go to Church school, and God wouldn’t want him to be hungry. He said, “I just can’t Mommy, I promised Jesus.”
They say you can learn something from everybody, and I believe it. Who would have thought a 5-year-old kid could teach us so much about promises, sacrifice, and religion? That is why I say Cole will be our first American Pope! And, I kinda believe it. Time will tell, though. Time will tell …