I have never ever done the season of Lent well. From Ash Wednesday through Good Friday I pray for it to end. First I don’t look good in the liturgical color of the season, purple. I actually prefer the green of Ordinary time or the Red of Pentecost. However I do have a really cool “cope” (which is liturgical jargon for cape) and stole (liturgical scarf) in purple that I picked up at little religious goods store in Poland back in 1996. I thought it was a chasuble (liturgical poncho) but it is still pretty cool. Unfortunately I have never had the occasion to wear it in a service despite the color which would not do me well.
However aesthetics aside Lent is my least favorite season of the Church year. Now I am not adverse to it on principle as I do think that we all need to take stock of our relationship with God and humanity as well as the things that we mess up on a daily basis. As someone whose spiritual life stays about at the Mendoza line I know that I have a lot that I need to improve in my life. That is a given. I would love to be a .300 spiritual hitter than a .215 spiritual hitter. However I do work at trying to get better. Lent is a season that reminds me of what a screw up I am, thus like anyone who doesn’t like to be reminded of their shortcomings for 40 days I find Lent a painful reminder of my imperfections.
So with that in mind and knowing that I am not the only person who is in my boat I have to provide some survival tips but those will wait. Since many readers have little idea what Lent is about let me do some “splainin” as Ricky Ricardo would have said.
Lent is the season of spiritual preparation that leads up to Holy Week and Easter. It is a “penitential season” meaning a season where we examine our lives in relationship to God and the folks that we hang with, sometimes referred to as humanity and seek to receive God’s grace to make amends and to find ways to do better. One of the ways that Christians have done is to give up certain foods or activities during the season. Others seek to add spiritual disciplines to their lives.
Lent begins on the Wednesday following “Fat Tuesday” which is called Ash Wednesday. On Ash Wednesday Christians have themselves marked with a cross from ashes on their forehead as a sign of the reality of their mortality and promise to use the season to return to God, make changes in their lives that will deepen their spiritual lives and their relationship with their neighbor. It’s the whole “which are the greatest commandments?” “Love God and love your neighbor” on steroids. Unfortunately the whole relationship thing sometimes gets lost as folks get caught in the legalism and minutia or trying to figure out what to “give up” for Lent, which often is like a New Year’s resolution which almost invariably goes bad. Lent then continues for 7 weeks but only 40 days are actually Lenten Lent as all the Sundays are “feast days” which mean that you can eat all the stuff that you don’t get to eat on Fridays or Wednesdays if your Church or Diocese is a bit stricter than others. There are also three major Feast Days, Saint Matthias (Apostle), Saint Joseph and the Annunciation. There is also Saint Patrick’s Day which though not a major feast day is often locally observed and of it falls on a Wednesday or Friday is sometimes is allowed by the local Bishop to supersede the fast day. Speaking of “Fast Days” these are days where the Christian gives up most food except for a couple of very small and simple meatless meals, though some are stricter in their observance of “Fast Days” and actually fast throughout the day, not that there is anything wrong with that. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are “Fast Days.” There are also days known as days of abstinence where the individual gives up certain foods or activities. Traditionally meat is given up on Fridays and depending on how strict your diocese is Wednesdays as well. Most people do fish on these days. I will write more about this later in the week.
I have struggled with Lent for most of my life even as a Priest. When I made my first confession I asked the Priest who heard it “if they deserved it was it still as sin?” Though that was not during Lent you get my drift. I admit that I struggle with Lent but over the past few months I have had a rather remarkable spiritual and emotional start to recovering from my case of PTSD. So as with most things I am not in dread of Lent this year. I will pick reasonable spiritual goals as well as things to abstain from during the season.
So with the warning given enjoy the next week.