The Rev. Virgil Brady of Lawrence's First United Methodist Church remembers that as a young boy, he often would give up reading comic books during Lent.
But as the Lenten season begins today, Brady and other members of the local clergy say they put less emphasis on giving up small things and more emphasis on true self-improvement.
Lent is a 40-day period beginning Ash Wednesday and ending the day before Easter that Christians traditionally have observed by fasting, performing acts of charity and giving up certain pleasures or amusements. Those 40 days do not include the six Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter.
The Rev. Mark Clevenger, vicar at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, said the Lenten tradition of sacrificing certain pleasures makes sense.
"The purpose is to share just a taste of Christ's sacrifice for you, so you sacrifice something yourself," Clevenger said. "I think those sacrifices are fine if they're done for the right reason, but sometimes people look at it like a New Year's resolution."
BRADY AGREED, saying that while sacrificing certain pleasures "has its place," the Lenten season really should be "a time of self-reflection and self-examination to begin a more disciplined life."
The Rev. Ron Goodman, pastor of the First Christian Church, said, "Part of the Lenten theme is to recognize the part of our human self that needs to be changed."
Along those lines, Goodman said his congregation on Sunday began a "50-day adventure" called "The Family God Wants Us to Be." He said the program emphasizes getting church members to work more harmoniously together and "giving up our dysfunctions to become the church family that God wants us to be."
"If Christ came to your church during these 50 days, what would happen? It's really a congregation-wide involvement in spiritual renewal," Goodman said.
FATHER VINCE Krische at the St. Lawrence Catholic Center also cited renewal as a theme of Lent, saying, "Lent is the springtime of the church. As we try to improve ourselves, there's new growth and new life in us. We're in harmony with the natural cycle."
Krische added that if St. Lawrence church members do decide to give up something of monetary value for Lent, they are encouraged to donate the money they would have spent on those things to Operation Rice Bowl, a program to relieve world hunger.