What to give up for Lent?
Lent is always a tough time of year for Catholics, for two reasons; 1) personally, it’s a time of sacrifice and reflection on our lives as Christians; and 2) all our non-Catholic friends have no idea what were doing and why we’re doing it.
The first question we always get asked, “What’s the deal with the ashes on your forehead?”
I’ve always had a bit of difficultly with this. On the one hand, I love the concept of getting ashes – as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. But as I move through my secular life – work, shopping, traveling – I don’t like walking around with them on my forehead. I’m a firm believer in not making a show of one’s religion:
Matthew 6:1-4 – 1“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. 2 Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Now, I don’t think a person should practice their faith in secret either, but the ashes are an extraordinary example of my faith and therefore I find it slightly uncomfortable to walk around so notably with an ashen cross on my forehead.
After the ashes, my dear non-Catholic friends will often wonder, “Wait, why can’t you come out to lunch with us on Wednesday?”
This rule has changed a lot in the last couple of decades, but nowadays Catholics are “required” to fast on Ash Wednesday (and at the end of Lent on Good Friday). Why? It’s a sacrifice on our part, we have one full meal and eat little or nothing for the two other meals, which meal you choose as you big meal is up to you, but most people I know choose dinner. Up until a few years ago, fasting was done every Friday in Lent, by everyone. Now it’s restricted to Catholics of post-pubescent age and in good health.
Most of the practices of Lent harken back to the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert fasting and being tempted by the Devil.
Next question from my friends usually surrounds why I’m always eating fish and plain pizza on Fridays.
Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays. Why? Well there are plenty of explanations, but I’ve always been partial to Thomas Aquinas, who said meat “affords greater pleasure as food [than fish], and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter.”
I tend to be a bad meat abstainer. My mom likes to point out I used to eat a lot of swimming cows and chickens during my college years as I would routinely forget I was eating a Double Chesseburger or Chicken McNuggets on a Friday. My wife now reminds me every Friday morning, “don’t forget, no meat!” I usually remember.
The last question always infuriates my non-Catholic friends, “WHY ARE YOU GIVING UP beer/chocolate/fast food/soda/insert-vice here!?” This one circles back to the abstinence issue, and truthfully, it’s much more of a sacrifice than fasting for two days in Lent or not eating meat on Fridays. Do you have any idea how much my wife likes drinking Diet Coke, my mom likes eating potato chips, or friend Erin likes candy? These are not easy things to give up for 40 days. (By the way, Lent lasts 46 days, however there’s no fasting/abstaining on the Sabbath, you don’t pain yourself on a day of celebration.)
This is where I tend to have my biggest problem during Lent. I never know what to give up. For one thing, most of my rather mild vices are next to impossible for me to successfully give up and I am often lawyer-like in my ability to rationalize a way into allowing myself to partake.
My biggest vice is probably fast food. It’s my work-week breakfast, lunch and on-the-road crutch. Unfortunately, for Lenten purposes, its not a daily habit, so I think I’ll need to adopt a second sacrifice. Lets hope I can come up with something before the next 46 days elapse. Afterall, if Jesus can be tempted for 40 days in the desert and then die on a cross for my sins, I should be able to give up chocolate or TV. Or maybe it should be an active “sacrifice,” daily Mass or rosary, weekly confession, praying the Divine Office, etc?
Feel free to make a suggestion in the comment section below.
- Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent (philly.com)