Lent Under The Microscope

Many Catholics are ready to celebrate the Lent season, which begins today, Ash Wednesday.  It is a 40-day period of fasting and reflection, which is a tradition that symbolizes Jesus’ own 40-day fasting period that is told in the book of Matthew.  Lent leads to the most Holy week of the Catholic calendar, which is Holy Week that ends with Easter.

There are many traditions and many ‘rules’ about Lent for each country per their Canon Law.  It can become very confusing.  One of the most confusing ‘rule’ is the one about fasting.  Canon Law states the following:

The Rules for Roman Catholics in the United States:

In the United States, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared that “the age of fasting is from the completion of the eighteenth year to the beginning of the sixtieth.” The USCCB also allows the substitution of some other form of penance for abstinence on all of the Fridays of the year, except for those Fridays in Lent. Thus, the rules for fasting and abstinence in the United States are:

  • Every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.
  • Every person between the age of 18 and 59 (your 59th birthday begins your 60th year) must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
  • Every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat on all other Fridays of the year, unless he or she substitutes some other form of penance for abstinence.

(Source: Code of Canon Law)

While Canon Law states the above as a ‘rules’ for all Catholics, the last bullet point is particularly interesting.  I have never known anyone in my life who follows this particular ‘rule’.  In fact, I will honestly admit that I didn’t even know about it.

I’m not trying to excuse myself or am trying to get out of a Canon Law rule, but this rule was adopted at the turn of the 20th century.  Revisions by the Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States revised this rule in 1983 to substitute not eating meat on Fridays with a form of penance.  Now why is that?  In my view, it is not realistic for today’s world.  I am a practicing Catholic and I do believe but I think that too much emphasis has been put on what is a sin and what is not when it comes to such things as what you eat on Fridays.  What if you honestly forget?  Have you committed the greatest sin the world?  Will you be marked for life?  Will you go to hell?  I think not.  Also, why confine these rituals to only Fridays?  Will that make you a better Catholic?

I think that teaching Catholic doctrine should be about the basics, i.e. the 10 Commandments, 7 Sacraments, fully participating in the Holy Mass, etc.  Doing the right thing, being a good person, giving, fundamentally abstaining (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday), prayer, and so forth…these will help people be closer to God.  Lent is one of the most special times in our Catholic history that I fully embrace but for me it is more than what you eat on Fridays.  Lent is about a reconnection with God, a conversion of a better self, if you will.   It is about reflection and real prayer, having that deep conversation with God and confiding in Him all of yourself.  It is also an opportunity to give to the poor.  A time to give to those in great need and I don’t mean just food or clothes.  It is a chance to give your time to the elderly in nursing homes.  Your time to your family and really being together if possible.  I know that some families just can’t get there yet but is an opportunity to try.  Most of all, Lent is a time to be a better you; a time to change what you want in yourself and be the best possible you.

So much of Lent has become so commercial.  Just like Christmas and New Year’s resolutions, it has become a commercial ritual.  Some people I spoke with think Lent is about the Easter bunny.  Still others, associate it with Mardi Gras.  They tell me that they are going to give up cursing, candy, chocolate, alcohol, etc.  Again, Lent is not about giving up superficial things.  It is about reflection, prayer, and giving without expecting anything in return and without announcement.

The following link is what Pope Francis said at Ash Wednesday Mass today:

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1400924.htm

What are your thoughts?

Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday mass in Rome

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