Lent has well and truly begun. Everyone has had time to question the wisdom of their chosen disciplines, and even forget it completely on a couple of occasions. The empty jar by the crucifix is slowly filling with dried beans, representing each little sacrifice or act of charity. The coins in our mite boxes clink together now, and the onion skins are gathering into a crunchy pile in the bread box.

Wait, what?

Don’t you save your onion skins? I didn’t either, until a few years ago when I found this easy recipe for making the natural dye to color Easter eggs in the traditional Greek way. Of course, I discovered it just before Holy Week, and dutifully peeled 15 yellow onions with all the fervor of a fresh convert.

When boiled down with vinegar, the dried outer skin of a quantity of yellow onions yields a bizarre orangey-red dye. When white eggs are simmered in the dye (yep: cooked and colored in a natural edible dye, all in one go), they turn a gorgeous blood-red color. Once they’ve cooled we polish them with olive oil, and maybe add a pysanky egg wrap (until someone teaches me to do the real thing). The result is quite striking.

We make these eggs every year now, but my skills as a Catholic homemaker have matured. Now I always buy yellow onions, unless a recipe calls for something different. On Ash Wednesday I make a simple tomato soup with grilled cheese for supper, and when I peel off the dried outer layer on the onion, I place it in a quart-size zipper bag and stash it in the bread box. All through Lent I keep the onion skins from all the soups and stews and pot pies; and by Easter we’ll have enough to make our beautiful eggs.

Aren’t all our Lenten penances like that? We can try to be superheroes about it, but it’s only by the grace of God that we can give up even the smallest of comforts for the sake of serving someone else first. It’s in the little, hidden acts of devotion and renunciation that we open our souls to be perfected by God. We hide the withered skins of our souls away, and know that when we are resurrected in Christ they will yield something beautiful.

Keep at it, Christians. It’s not easy to love as Christ loves. But He does love, and we are saved by His Sacrifice for us. Serve Him faithfully in all the small things he calls us to, and He will win the victory in the end.