The three traditional practices for Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Unfortunately, I think that we are can sometimes become legalistic about these practices and miss their intrinsic spiritual value entirely. At such times we may keep the letter of the law without really getting to the spirit of the law.
Let me give you a few examples. There are two (2) fast days that we are required to keep in our church: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Two days out of an entire year! This fast means eating one full meal on those days (if we are between 18 and 59 years old). The regulations go on to say that two smaller meals may be taken but they together should not equal the main meal. If we do not include those who are sick or elderly, how much of a true sacrifice is this for the average healthy person? Not much, I’m afraid. I have even heard people say that they deliberately eat one really big meal so that the two lesser meals can technically be quite substantial as well! Think about it. We can still eat three times on that fast day and not break the letter of the law of fasting! I don’t get it. Why bother at all?
How could we better live the spirit of the law? One suggestion would be to eat one small or modest meal at the middle of the day. Pray while doing so and think about those people in poor countries who may go hungry for days at a time. Think about those who are poverty stricken and may eat only after picking out something from the garbage of others. Think about those who will die of starvation.
The same is true about abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. We could still keep the letter of the law by eating lobster, king crab legs, shrimp, oysters, etc. But is this really keeping the spirit of the law? Wouldn’t tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich be more in keeping with a spirit of penance and sacrifice? How about pasta with marinara sauce as an option? (You might find me eating some potato or cheese pierogies—part of my culture!)
Spiritually there is much more to be gained by serious self-denial and by “picking up our cross daily.”
Cutting corners is for legalistic wimps!
Fr. Ed Namiotka
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