Just two days from now is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. This will be an important period for some of you, but others may know, or care, little about the observance of Lent as practiced by many Christians. Regardless, let's think a bit about Lent.
What is Lent?
What is Lent?
As I wrote seven years ago (see here), like most of you who grew up as Baptists or other “low church” Protestants, I heard almost nothing about Lent as a boy and for a long time had no interest in observing Lent. Nevertheless, for many years now I have made some conscious effort to observe Lent and will again do so this year.
The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the Christian believer for the celebration of Easter. Linked to Jesus’ fasting in the desert for 40 days at the beginning of his public ministry, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for 40 days, excluding Sundays.
Traditionally, Lent has been a time of token fasting in order to remember Jesus’ fasting in the desert and his suffering for the sins of humanity on the Cross.
When sincerely practiced, Lent can be a meaningful time for the practitioner.
Why Give Up Something for Lent?
The U.S. Roman Catholic Church’s “rules for fasting and abstinence [of certain foods]” state that everyone 14 years of age and older “must abstain from meat (and items made with meat)” on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent.
Those who are not Catholics—or who are already vegetarians/vegans—often choose something else to abstain from during Lent as a reminder of Jesus and his sufferings.
For many years from the time I first started observing Lent, I gave up eating sweets as a reminder of Jesus each time I didn’t eat a dessert—but also because it was a way to lose weight, which I needed to do for many years. I have always had a “sweet tooth,” so not eating sweets actually was “giving up” something I much enjoyed.
Since Sundays are exempt from Lenten practices, whatever is given up can be enjoyed on Sundays, which are days of rejoicing, not fasting. Unfortunately, in some years I ate too many sweets on the Sundays during the Lenten season.
What to Give Up for Lent?
My 2/10/13 blog article was about giving up eating meat for Lent—and, in fact, I did quit eating meat during Lent that year—and have not eaten beef or pork since. But even though I am happy to no longer be eating red meat there is no compelling ethical reason for not doing so. (There are some legitimate related ethical concerns, however, but that is a subject for a later discussion.)
In recent years I have been somewhat bothered by what some people suggest might be given up for Lent. For example, earlier this month Country Living magazine suggested 20 things that might be given up for Lent—and #1 was gossip. Negativity, being late, and speeding were also on the list.
More disappointing is how Pope Francis has made questionable suggestions along this line. A Feb. 2015 Time magazine article is titled “Pope Francis’ Guide to Lent: What You Should Give Up This Year.” His main suggestion was that people give up indifference toward others.
I certainly agree that all of us should give up indifference toward others—as well as gossip, negativity, etc. But why just for Lent? Why imply that those attitudes/actions would be all right once Lent is over, or on Sundays during Lent?
There are some/many things that most of us need to give up, period—and during Lent would be an excellent time for doing that. There are other things that can be given up for Lent and then taken up again. I hope many of us can find meaningful ways to do both, for the benefit of ourselves and of others.