I was a
little shy of ten years old when I had what may have been my most
spiritually profitable Lent ever. Looking back now, I can see clearly
that I owed that to my mother. And the Purple Monster.
time before, my parents had taken the significant step of letting me to
go to the movies by myself. That meant that every Friday after supper I
trooped off to the local movie palace with a gang of neighborhood kids
and plunked down my quarter to see a cowboy movie and the latest
installment of the current serial.
The cowboy movies were B-grade
flicks starring people like Johnny Mack Brown and William Boyd as
Hopalong Cassidy. I thoroughly enjoyed them. But what really enthralled
me was the serial.
The one that had started just as I began
attending those Friday evening shows was called The Purple Monster
Strikes. It was about a visitor from another planet who, for reasons
I’ve long since forgotten, went about causing all sorts of trouble that
each week ended with the heroes of the story in a desperate, apparently
unresolvable fix. (Come back next week and you’ll see how they get out
The script was primitive, the acting execrable, but for at
least one nine-year-old boy The Purple Monster was the last word in
sophisticated entertainment. Week after week, I could hardly wait for
Friday to roll around so that I could find out what happened next.
came Lent. As Ash Wednesday drew near, my mother raised the inevitable
question: What was I giving up? She didn’t command, but she made it
clear that the correct answer was: “Candy and movies.”
could do without. But no movies meant six weeks without The Purple
Monster. Painful though the prospect was, I choked it downboth to
satisfy my mother and because, I was dimly aware, somehow or other it
was the right thing to do. All through Lent I did without the Friday
evening movies. By the time Lent ended, The Purple Monster Strkes had
run its course.
I have the impression that “giving up something
for Lent” is not as popular today as it was back then. That’s too bad.
Rightly understood, it’s practical training in detachment and, as such,
extremely useful. God wants us to rid ourselves of our attachments, for
in the end God himself is the only attachment worth having. In the words
of that spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ, “Only God,
who is eternal and immense, fills all things and is the true consolation
of the soul and true joy of the heart” (II.5).
Love him and fit
everything else in the context of that lovethat’s the lesson God wants
us to learn and the great lesson the ascetical life aims to teach. And,
little as he understood it, for one not yet ten-year-old giving up The
Purple Monster was a step in that direction.
Note that the
giving-up should hurt a bit. As Pope Francis says in his message for
Lent, “no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance.” If you
hate turnips and give them up, it doesn’t count for much. Profitable
giving-up will therefore differ for different people. Should it be
television, Facebook, listening to Bach? It’s a question each one must
answer for himself.
Meanwhile, I’ve got another question that’s
gone unanswered for quite a few years: Can anyone tell meat lasthow
that Purple Monster got his comeuppance in the end?