Saturday, March 5, 2011

Preparing for Lent: Part 1

I love the Church seasons! Advent, Lent, Holy Week, Christmas, Easter; I love them all! I usually approach them with great excitement and readiness to grow and then...three days in to the season I've failed in some way at my attempts to grow and I've given up. "Oh well, there's always next Lent", I will say.

This Lent will be different. I'm actually trying to prepare for Lent before Ash Wednesday. Imagine that! I have a book by St. Thomas Aquinas on Lent and when I first opened it up, I was baffled as to why the Lenten readings didn't start until the middle of the book. Before the Lenten medidations are all these big Latin words I have never heard; Septuagesima Sunday, Sexagesima Wednesday, and Quinquagesima Friday. A few Google searches later, and I find that we are actually supposed to be preparing for Lent THREE WEEKS before it even starts! Holy Cow! Did anyone do this growing up? Because we didn't. Maybe this has something to do with my failings.

Fast forward a few days, and I find an awesome online homily on Lent. If you have twenty-five minutes while you are folding laundry, listen to it here. If you only have a few minutes, finish this post and I'll talk a little about it. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, "By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert". So there is a very little explanation of why Lent is forty days. According to the priest in the homily, the main reason we fast is 1) to do penance in reparation for our sins and 2) to grow in the virtue of temperance. Did you hear that? To GROW in the VIRTUE of TEMPERANCE. I think to understand how to grow in temperance, we have to know what it is. Temperance is defined as practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation. Here are a few place where temperance is found in scripture:

"But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Romans 13:13)

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:1-2)

"Training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age" (Titus 2:12)

So now the question is, how much should we give up during Lent. Of course, every person is different, but the Church has always prescribed certain things for everyone over the age of 14 and under the age of 60 to sacrifice. I'm just amazed at how much used to be asked of us, compared to how much is asked now. Did you know that hundreds of years ago, people used to fast on just one meal a day ALL 40 DAYS of Lent except Sunday? Furthermore, in this one meal a day they did not eat meat, dairy or eggs (basically anything that came from an animal). To top that off, they didn't eat this one meal until after sunset. During Holy Week they upped the stakes and only ate bread, salt, herbs and water for the entire week. Town theaters were completely closed during the 40 days of Lent and married couples were expected to abstain from the marital act and come together in prayer. Wanna know what the current fasting standards are? We are called to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat during all Friday's of Lent. That's right...we went from 40 days of  abstaining to a measly 8.

So, what happened? Well, over time the Church kept giving people small allowances during Lent (ie small cup of coffee in the morning with a slice of bread, etc) and eventually we became the total weenies we are today. We are living in very very weak times, where we indulge our every desire. When was the last time you wanted something, let's say a piece of chocolate to make it simple, and made yourself keep away from it for the sole purpose of denying your flesh? If you are anything like me, it was a long long time ago if any time at all...

Part II To Follow Shortly.

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