It arrives every year, usually quietly and without much fanfare due to the havoc of the day prior. Sometimes it sneaks up so quietly, I don’t notice until it’s nearly upon me.
Being raised Catholic – and attending Catholic school for 11 years – I learned a lot about the observance of Lent, which many non-Catholics – particularly non-Christians – have difficulty understanding. Lent is the 40-day season before Easter, one of the many holidays the Catholic church observes, and is a time for meditation.
Lent is mainly known for two things outside the Catholic faith: the tradition of fasting and abstinence. Today, I’m going to discuss the practice of abstinence during Lent, which has nothing to do with that kind of abstinence. Rather, we’ll be discussing this type of abstinence instead.
Every year since I can remember, my parents have made my siblings and I follow the rules of abstinence for Lent. This means no meat on Fridays, which – when my grandparents were young, so probably before Vatican II – was at one point standard on every Friday for Catholics. Instead, we had fish or other meals that did not include meat. Abstinence doesn’t include other animal products, so we often had macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese sandwiches.
Another abstinence practice is a tradition of “giving up” something for Lent. I’ve met lots of people who see this as a kind of chore and like to give up things they don’t normally do anyway – a couple smartalecky kids in my grade school gave up “studying” for Lent. Frequently, Catholics give up things like eating chocolate, drinking pop, or smoking if possible.
Abstinence practices are the one thing I’ve been picked on most about by people who are Christian, but not Catholic. The most common reason for people to bother me about it is “Why?” I guess their real question is “Why do you need to give up something for God?”
I’ve given up something every year I can remember, and always the same thing: candy. Sometimes it’s the more specific chocolate candy, but invariably candy. It’s not like I eat tons and tons of candy; it’s something I like to have a couple times a week. Still, I give it up for Lent for one main reason.
Candy is a luxury, and I’m lucky I can have it.
For me, Lent is a season in which I think about how lucky I am. To be able to make the conscious choice to abstain from meat. To be able to consciously choose not to eat candy. How lucky am I, really, to choose to give those things up when there are people all over the world and in my own community who don’t have that choice because they hardly have anything to eat at all?
Though I’m sure not all of my readers are Catholic or even Christian, I invite all of you to take a moment out of your day today to think about the ways in which you’re fortunate. You may not feel very fortunate; it might be the winter blues, or maybe you’re down on your luck. But you are fortunate in some way, and sometimes we forget how fortunate or how blessed we really are.