We Christians are in the Lenten season. It starts the day after Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday.”)
Mardi Gras season actually begins on January 6th, the Epiphany, the day that commemorates the Three Kings or Magi’s visit to Baby Jesus. The last week before Lent is celebrated with parades, feasting and carousing. “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we will die.” Or in this case, “tomorrow we will diet!”
**One of the traditions of Mardi Gras is King Cake, a colorful cake with a plastic baby inside. King cake reminds us of the three kings finding Baby Jesus.**
It is tradition to observe the forty days of Lent by giving up something. As a children, we often gave up candy or television. After Vatican 2 in the 1960’s, we were encouraged to be more positive and think of others, giving up “anger” or grudges or doing something positive for others. Both practices remain as people choose their own Lenten observances.
In the Catholic church, it is mandatory to practice “fast and abstinence” during certain days such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We “abstain” on every Friday.
“Abstinence” means not eating any meat. There’s an age requirement but my mother made it “across the board” in our family. The rule is every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent. Fasting just meant eating light meals and not eating between meals.
People 18 years old to 60 years must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Many people continue to fast beyond that age as a personal preference. The “rule” is there because it was thought that the elderly are frail and need to eat. Nowadays with longer lifespans and healthier, more active elderly people, many see it as archaic.Before Vatican 2, the rules were much stricter, with all 40 days of Lent (excludes Sundays) being days of abstinence from meat. I hated fish, especially growing up in a family of eight in the Midwest where seafood is expensive and not the freshest. We ate a lot of fish sticks. It was double penance! Mom also made meatless dishes like macaroni and cheese, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, and a Eastern European dish called Haluski, a fried cabbage and dumplings dish.
Lent can present some issues for us. Consider St. Patrick’s Day which usually falls during Lent. This year, it’s on a Friday during Lent! What do the Irish Catholics do? We must have our corned beef and cabbage! Depending on where you live, the bishop or archbishop may issue a dispensation which allows Catholics to eat meat on Friday. The large Irish community in Omaha received a dispensation this year with the stipulation that if you eat meat on Friday, you must abstain on Saturday.
Lent is a time of self-reflection, charity and prayer. The three pillars or practices of Lent are alms-giving, penance and fasting. It is a time to stop and think about our relationship with God and with other people.
This year a friend of mine started posting on Facebook her”40 Days of Change.” The first one I saw was “10-cents for each cup of coffee you drink today.” I wondered what that meant, so I asked her. She said that at her Protestant church, the pastor handed out Lenten calendars. On each day of the week (except Sundays), a suggestion for collecting change is given, things like 10-cents for each phone call you make or receive, 25-cents for each bed in your house, a penny for each book you own (that would be a lot for me!), 25-cents if you belong to a gym, etc. The point is to think about things you have that others may not have. Then collect the money in a jar and donate it to a charity. With 40 days, it could add up to a good amount and probably not be missed by us.
It seems like such a simple thing and yet one that could impact lives. I have decided to do it. Retroactively, I figured out the amount for the 10 days I’ve missed and have started today with “20-cents for each musical instrument you own.” My sixty-cents today will be added to the $6.80 I figured out from the past calendar days. I will continue until April 15.
The calendar is a good guide. Even if you don’t have the calendar that I got from my friend, you can create your own by thinking of things you have that people might not have access to. I thought these before I received the calendar from my friend:
- Number of pets you have
- Number of pictures on the wall and on your shelves
- Full shelves of food in the refrigerator
- Number of cupboards/shelves with food in them
- Number of televisions in the house
- Number of devices like iPads, readers, phones, laptops
- Exercise equipment
- Number of bathrooms in your house
- Number of clocks
- Number of cars, motorcycles, boats you own
- Number of windows in your house
- If you have a shredder or security system
- If you have a swimming pool
- If you have a financial advisor
- Number of chairs in your house
- Number of pens on your desk
- Number of photo albums
The list you can create is endless. Then assign an amount to donate such as a penny for every pen in your desk drawer or $1 if you belong to a gym or have a financial adviser. At the end of Lent, put the change in the collection basket at church or donate it to a charity of your choice. The exercise is a good reminder of what we take for granted every day and what other less fortunate people in the world don’t have access to.
This Lent, let’s give up our selfishness and self-righteousness and turn our self-involved behaviors outward to help the poor, disenfranchised and needy of our community. I think we will benefit immensely if we become more self-aware of our gifts and share them with others. We can “shine a great light” when we focus on others.