Am I strange because I like Lent? I always have, even when I was a little girl. Back then, we went to Mass every morning at school. I loved the rhythmic way Father Henkel chanted, “Remember, man, thou are dust, to dust thou shall return” over and over and over. I loved singing “These forty days of Lent, O Lord, to You we fast and pray, teach us to discipline our will and follow, Lord, Your way.” I even loved the challenge of giving up something really difficult. And I REALLY loved fried fish on Friday night–a real treat that we never had any other time of year.
As an adult, I got into some serious Lenten self-denial–going without meat all forty days, fasting strictly EVERY Friday, not eating between meals at all for the duration. We began going to the Stations of the Cross each week, something I never did as a child.
Yesterday because of an argument over the abstinence requirements that I was having with one of my teenagers, I was reading some relevant sections of Canon Law. I was reminded that when the obligation to fast and abstain on EVERY Friday was removed, it was with the understanding that it was to be replaced with some other act of penitence. And then a Facebook friend commented that when people shouldn’t announce their yearly Lenten disappearance from Facebook if they want it to count as a sacrifice. This started me thinking–giving something up is great, if it’s done prayerfully. When it starts being about endurance and pride, which I think my fasting had become, it’s time to do something new. Staying off Facebook might be a great sacrifice, but not if all that happens is that it frees up extra time. What if you used that freed time for prayer or good works.
I’m not going off Facebook, and not just because it would be difficult. For one thing, it’s crucial to my blogging, which is something I want to be focusing on. For another, I like to think that I use Facebook positively, to encourage my friends, to spread news I think is important for people to see, and to get needed social interaction. There are some things I am going to cut back on for Lent, but I am also going to try to do some positive things. I’m announcing this one, but only because that’s the best way I know of to make sure I do it: I am going to try to blog every day. Posts may be very brief, but I’m going to try to put something out there EVERY DAY.
Somehow commitments I make before God seem to be easier to keep than resolutions that I make just for myself. No, writing isn’t an act of penitence! But it can be hard to sacrifice that time when I have other things to do. And I will make an effort to include more spiritual, religious, or uplifting posts for the next forty days.
I agree, Leslie, I try to use FB to spread the message about the dangers of drug abuse, something close to my heart. We used to eat fish every Friday when I was growing up in Germany. My mother was a devout Catholic. I can’t remember ever observing lent, which does not mean we didn’t, I just can’t remember.
I was raised as an Episcopalian, and we always observed Lent by giving something up (conveniently, my parents tended to go on a diet during Lent and decree that everybody had to give up dessert).
However, by the time I was a teenager, our Sunday School teachers were telling us that you could observe Lent by doing something, rather than not doing something.
Now, I’m an atheist, but my husband and children are Catholics, so my outsider’s view is:
You explain Lent to a child as giving up (sacrificing) something in recognition of the much bigger sacrifice that Jesus made. (The fact that I don’t happen to believe in it is irrelevant.)
Children tend to be very concrete in their thinking, so sacrificing by giving up something makes more sense than sacrificing by doing something.
When they get older, you can introduce the idea of sacrifice as *doing* something. For example, last year the wife of my son’s soccer coach (a devout Catholic) told me her Lenten vow was to her best to do a good deed every day. It didn’t have to be something huge – but during Lent, she would go out of her way to do something good for someone else.
I like your explanation and if you would ever care to share I’d be very interested to hear more about your experiences raising Catholic children as a non-believer. Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting.
I love Lent too, Leslie. Some of my friends are off facebook, but I decided it wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice for me since it’s been mostly driving me bananas lately ;). Love the idea of writing more. It can be such a spiritual exercise!
Dwija, you inspired my post today! It was definitely a spiritual exercise. I am so glad to have the opportunity to get to know you!