ORLANDO, March 27 - We are deep into the season of Lent, and some remarkable things have been happening to me.

For starters, I am surprised to find that I am no more Catholic than I was when "holy season" started. I have also discovered that not being Catholic at this time of year means I don't have to give up a bunch of stuff as my Catholic friends do.

Normally the idea of giving up stuff I like is not something that appeals to me. But because I am a guy and not a very mature one I tend to get jealous when I am excluded from things.

Even things like Lent.

To be honest, I guess you could say I have Catholic envy.

Maybe it is the atonement of sins through penance, maybe it is the tradition that dates back as far as my calendar, or maybe it was all those movies in the 1980s that depicted Catholic girls in private-school uniforms as the quintessence of sexy.

I possess all the requisite skills to be a Catholic: I respect people who dress in black, I harbor tremendous feelings of guilt, and I like wine. Not to mention I don't spend much time at Protestant churches, regardless of my being a Presbyterian in good standing.

For much of my life I have been surrounded by Catholics. Maybe it is a case of the grass being greener on the other side, but my friends always seemed to be having a lot more fun than I was. Never mind the fact that they got cool stuff, like beads, and could chant Latin phrases.

Being Catholic was like being a member of a great club with a lot of secret handshakes. And being Presbyterian was more like going to church and singing occasionally.

This particular Lent struck a strong chord in me for some reason. One day I was out celebrating Mardi Gras, and the next day, while I was at the grocery store nursing a hangover, I noticed a woman who had a smudge on her forehead.

At first I had myself a good chuckle at the woman's poor hygiene, but as the day drew on, and I spotted more smudges, it dawned on me that something was going on, and I had not been included. At first, I thought charcoal smudges had become the latest fashion accessory. It turns out it was Ash Wednesday.

Up until then, my only clue that the holy days were upon us was when one of my Catholic friends had pronounced the previous night that in honor of Lent, he was going to give up smoking and sleeping past noon.

Suddenly I became filled with jealousy that he had a reason to give up things while I had to sit around and wait for next New Year's. So in keeping with the spirit of my Catholic envy, I pronounced that I too would give up sleeping late for Lent.

When I woke up the next day about 2 p.m., I realized that maybe giving up stuff for Lent worked only if you were Catholic.

Two days later, when I saw my friend lighting up a cigarette and declaring that Easter had arrived early, I figured out that I was wrong. Not even the fear of a vengeful God makes giving up stuff easy.

Even so, that divine insight did nothing to dull my desire to belong to the great club that is Catholicism.

Fortunately this Lent will be over in about a month, and I won't feel so excluded by the oldest Christian institution on the planet.

Then perhaps I can dwell on some of the great reasons that I am a Presbyterian.

Weddings that last no longer than 15 minutes spring to mind.
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