Happy second day of Lent! I hope your season has gotten off to a good start. I for one am truly looking forward to seeing God work in my family and me this Lent because contrary to popular opinion, we CAN do hard things.
As my friend’s priest said in yesterday’s homily, the modern Church has truly “wimpified” this season. Only in the modern Catholic Church is it becoming trendy to not give up anything while only taking on a small task; only in post Vatican II America, is true fasting no longer considered pious but rather self-righteous. Of course, Jesus tells us throughout the Gospels to fast with joy and “in secret” which today I suppose means not plastering it all over Instagram, but what I saw on lots of platforms was not bragging of what they were giving up, but rather, all the great many things they weren’t. Certainly, most people are not called to give up every luxury, but to the masses who are trying to skimp the rules (you know who you are) then let me be the first to call you what you really are: a coward.
Sadly, the USCCB does not feel as though Catholics are able to do hard things. They have watered down the wonderful and life-changing season of Lent to a fraction of what Catholics have been doing for centuries. The first being days of fasting. Fasting is considered two small snacks and a meal. Since 1966, Americans are only required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. While there are a few extra days of recommended fasting, the vigils of Holy Days and the Triduum are now, as I like to call it, “choose your own adventure”. They no longer even include the Ember Days. Below is a picture of the traditional liturgical calendar my family follows:
Do you see a difference? This vast difference was brought to our attention last Lent when our convert friends told us what they were doing for Lent. We gave up alcohol and sweets, and coffee on Fridays but their Lent included a whole life-change that had never been presented to us before (remember, we are cradle Catholics from the east coast who are poorly Catechized). They kept the fast of a small, bland, meatless breakfast and lunch, with a simple (usually meatless) dinner in addition to no sweets, alcohol or snacking. They also decided on some additional prayers to add into their personal and family routines while giving up social media. I remember thinking my friend was out of her mind, but not only did they survive, they thrived!
Can this apply to the modern life? Absolutely. Liam and I sat down on Septuagesima to make a game plan so that we would not enter this season doe-eyed. Oh yes, Septuagesima, a pre-Lent of sorts, another thing modern Catholicism has ripped away; that is the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday. You can also see in the picture above that Quinquagesima (Sunday before Ash Wednesday): these are penitential days as the liturgical color is violet. Mother Church, in Her wisdom gives us these days before Lent to begin preparing our hearts and bodies for what’s to come. I can truly say I have never entered a Lent as peacefully or as joyfully as this one and that is because I was able to pray and make attainable goals for the Lenten season.
About six pregnant/ nursing mothers reached out to me before Lent and asked what I was doing because I am also pregnant. The Church gives pregnant and nursing mothers (and the TRULY disabled) a pass from fasting and abstinence but, with my midwife’s blessing and mindset that I can do hard things, we ended up with the following: Breakfast Monday-Saturday: Oatmeal + fruit. Lunch: PB&J or Tuna Fish. Snack (if necessary): fruit, nuts or scoop of peanut butter. Dinner: full vegetarian meal. On Sundays we will eat three full meals, snack, and include meat. Despite working full time and going to school at night, Liam is following the same regiment but forgoing any snacks. Because I don’t eat gluten for health reasons, giving up meat took some serious thought and prep on my part, but it can be done! This is not supposed to be easy or convenient, but doable (and it is!). Fasting from extravagent foods is honestly the bare minimum here and it’s sad that we can no longer find commradery with the majority of Catholics. I gave up Instagram, Liam gave up Reddit, and we both are fasting from our beloved coffee on Wednesdays & Fridays, the Ember Days, and Holy Week. We are still not eating sweets or drinking alcohol.
Will we break this fast? Yes. We will celebrate the feast days of St. Joseph, the Annunciation, and Brennan’s birthday (on Laetare Sunday) by adding in a dessert or an adult beverage for Liam. We have a military ball to attend and Liam will be flying east for a wedding, so we will try to be reasonable with the choices we are given in those circumstances. But part of our Lenten goals is to detach from the world so breaking our fast on phones is a hard no. We will be avoiding social situations that may force us to eat meat specifically on Wednesdays and Fridays, the traditional days of fasting (Friday abstinence outside of Lent is still Canon Law).
We have been in this season for under 48 hours and God is already beginning to show me the idols I make in every day life. What’s worse, is the realization of the pathetic excuses I use to tell myself something’s not a sin. I need to be on Instagram to get every day pictures of others, because I truly care about them and I just want to stay involved in their life! No IG, hmmm, well, how can I get around that? Nope. I ran today, the kids are cranky and hubby is working late. Just one piece of chocolate is still a sacrifice because I won’t eat the whole bar. Nope. I work job xyz and I might get a headache if I give up snacking. Nope. I’m pregnant so I get a pass. Nope (within reason). Our minds can trick us, and that trickster has a name: Satan. I challenge you (and am continually challenging myself) to call it what it is: idolatry. Whether it’s food, laziness, or the urge to be in the know, throw it back in Satan’s face and pray a Hail Mary and friends, don’t be a stumbling block on another’s Lenten journey. If their path to holiness seems like an inconvenience to you or your life, check yourself.
Self-sacrifice is NOT self-righteous. It is an act of piety (an actual virtue) and means that you are humbling your physical needs so that every pang of hunger you feel, every time you want a big Mac, beer, chocolate, Instagram, whatever it is- is a physical reminder that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins and by golly the LEAST you can do is work through that temptation in thanksgiving and joy for the eternal life you are FREELY GIVEN because of His death.
Fasting is only part of the journey…on prayer and almsgiving to follow…