Thursday, February 18, 2010

Embracing the Season of Lent

In the Gospel this week, Jesus reminds us that we need not fast when the bridegroom is with us. The time for fasting is not during a wedding feast…but Christ also notes that His disciples will fast when the bridegroom is no longer around. In this passage, Jesus, reminds us of the appropriateness of behavior being linked to circumstances. There are times and places for different attitudes towards food. To every thing there is a season—and, specifically, a liturgical season. I was struck yesterday, during our church’s Ash Wednesday service, by the mercy of Christ and His Church in giving us these seasons. Our pastor was recommending (especially, though not exclusively, to the parochial students in the audience) the practice of morning prayers during Lent. Sure, it would be better to say morning prayer every day, but our God knows our nature! And so we are given the blessing of times that are set aside as special, where we can devote ourselves to the Lord especially, and take on good habits, with the hope of continuing those habits. But if we don’t, there will be another special chance in Advent and again next Lent.

Lent is clearly a season of abstinence, a time of year where we’re asked to re-focus our hearts, minds, and stomachs on what is most valuable and essential for our lives. Jesus Himself fasted in the desert for forty days, and the devil’s first temptation was to challenge him to turn stones to bread. We are asked to remember what really gives us life: before any of the things we “need”, we need Him! We can incorporate this into our approach to food in general…not just by eliminating meat on Fridays, but in our general approach to eating during this time. One of the strange aspects of the Lenten meat prohibition in our modern era is that it often feels more like an inconvenience than abstinence: many people don’t eat meat every day, and for most of us, fish or seafood is a delicacy, something reserved for special occasions.

To that end, I have been thinking about how to incorporate the spirit of fasting into my family’s Lenten practice. One familiar idea is to have an inexpensive meal and to contribute the ‘extra’ money to charity. I think this works best if the whole family can be aware of this practice and actually see or bring the money to someone or see it sent (even if it’s virtually) to the charity in question. But I was also thinking of the value of our *time*. A meal—and its cleanup—can be a lengthy operation. It seems very appropriate to the season to simplify one or more of our meals during the week. Instead of a regular dinner, we can have something very easy to make-- be it soup, plain pasta, or another low-maintenance dish, and give the time that we would have spent in its preparation to some worthy cause. That may mean additional family prayer time, individual spiritual reading, a visit to a soup kitchen, or some other sacrificial work. But becoming aware of how we use our time can help us to purify our hearts and unite ourselves to the Lenten fast on more than one level.


  1. I know this blog is dedicated to food and cooking, but you are vere right in pointing out that Lent is not only about abstaining from certain foods or from drink, but that we should focus on our inner selves as well. And on lending a helping hand to someone in need; for that we must open our hearts and try to make a pause in our daily trot, in our routine. Not as easy and natural as it sounds...

  2. At the risk of sounding ponderous, this blog is helping me slowly, gradually, to start *thinking* about faith again.