I Gave It Up for Lent

“Fasting makes sense if it really chips away at our security and, as a consequence, benefits someone else, if it helps us cultivate the style of the Good Samaritan, who bent down to his brother in need and took care of him.” –Pope Francis

GiveEvery year my wife, Diane and I, spend a good part of the month of March in Naples, Florida. Naples is a wonderful place, very upscale, with lots of retirees who have had successful careers.

Last year, at Ash Wednesday mass, during the homily, the priest mentioned that he had received several calls in the past few days asking him about the rules for fasting.

“How old do you have to be to not be required to fast?” was the question.

“Well,” said the priest, “it is 59 which includes 99 percent of you!”

He went on to give a great homily on what fasting should be about. At the end of mass before the concluding hymn, he reminded all in attendance that we abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday. He said, “If you are at the Turtle Club tonight for dinner, don’t order the 16 oz. steak!”

That night, we just happened to have reservations at that very restaurant and as we sat waiting for our waiter to finish taking an order at a nearby table we couldn’t help but overhear the conversation.

“I’ll have the New York Strip,” said the elderly gentleman.

“No, honey!” his wife exclaimed. “Father said don’t have the steak tonight.”

“OK then,” he replied, as he looked at the waiter, “I’ll have the lobster instead!”

Apparently, the priest’s message lost something of its meaning in the hours that followed mass.

“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.” — Pope Francis

It reminded me of myself as a kid. I’d give up candy for Lent only to gorge myself on chocolate Easter bunnies, peep, and marshmallow Easter eggs from my overstuffed basket on Easter morning.

Or, the time I gave up broccoli and asparagus (I dislike them both) or watermelon, which I love but is out of season during Lent, so no problem!

It’s hard to admit, but I seemed to have missed a similar homily years ago.

That is the problem I have with rule-book Catholicism. We are so fixated on following the rules that we miss the reason for the tradition. It has nothing to do with our age or finding the right loop hole, it’s about trying to have our best Lent ever!

It’s about taking the three pillar of Lent; prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and making them more meaningful in your life.

It’s about giving up your smart phone in the evening to spend more quality time with your family.

It’s about giving up Facebook and taking that time and read an uplifting book, commit to a daily devotional, saying a rosary, or praying the Stations of the Cross.

It’s about giving up complaining, gossiping or meaningless texting and instead, volunteer at the food pantry.

It’s about giving up that double mocha latte and donating the money saved to a charity.

Most people give up the same thing every year, and truth be told, if you fit into that category, then you need to do something different if you are going to have a meaningful Lenten season.

Try doing something you haven’t done before, something different, something out of character for you. It will have so much more meaning.

Giving up chocolate, soda pop, alcohol, or fast foods may meet the minimum requirements; but we should ask the question that Pope Francis suggested in his Ash Wednesday homily last year, “does my fasting benefit someone else.” Then, our Lenten fast won’t be all about us, but about being like the Good Samaritan.

Lent begins this Wednesday, let’s take some time these next few days and think about what we really want to get from Lent this year. Let’s think about how our spiritual life can grow as we prepare to have our best Easter ever.

As Blessed Mother Teresa said, “As Lent is the time for greater love, listen to Jesus’ thirst…’Repent and believe’ Jesus tells us. What are we to repent? Our indifference, our hardness of heart. What are we to believe? Jesus thirsts even now, in your heart and in the poor — He knows your weakness. He wants only your love, wants only the chance to love you.”

Let’s do this together, my friend.

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