Filipino students, employees, administrators and seminarians from the University of Santo Tomas gather to form a "Dominican Cross" as they observe the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday in Manila, Philippines. (Aaron Favila/AP)

Okay, I’ll admit this outright: I’m not a Catholic. But I do love Catholic traditions. The incense wafting through the cathedrals, the pantheon of saints. It’s a mysterious and beautiful religion. Of course, I’m not technically allowed to participate in any of its rituals without fearing the wrath of my Catholic friends. Although there is one I do surreptitiously: penance during Lent.

The 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter (the 40 days of Lent do not count the six Sundays) mark a time when worshipers forgo something to honor the sacrifice of Jesus during his 40 days in the desert.

Catholic or not, it’s a good time to practice a little self-restraint. It’s like a New Year’s resolution in miniature. A whole year without chocolate seems impossible. Forty days? That’s more practical (though not practical enough: during the last Lent I failed that within three days).

The practice has moved away from just sacrifice to starting up a new habit, such as charity work, or breaking an old habit, such as abstaining from the digital world.

This year, I’ll be turning off my e-mail after work ends. I’ll sacrifice my digital addiction in the hopes of recognizing the real world a little.

What are you giving up for Lent?

Tell us in the comments below or by using #40Days on Twitter.

Update: From a reader: “I just want to point out that Lent is a Christian holiday, not exclusive to Catholics. Where I’m from, the German Protestants celebrate it too.”