With Ash Wednesday a week behind us, many Lent observers are now being put to the test: can they really resist that chocolate bar or is there some bylaw that justifies eating candy bars that are only 60 percent chocolate? Maybe the real question they should be asking is why they are giving chocolate up in the first place.
Lent is a 40-day period of prayer and fasting, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends the day before Easter. The concept of 40 days comes from Matthew 4:2 where Jesus spends 40 days and nights in the desert fasting and praying before gathering the disciples and beginning his ministry.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “By the solemn 40 days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert.”
Originally then, the tradition was one of fasting, something that in the Catholic Church now consists of eating only one meal a day with the addition of two snacks so long as they do not add up to the portion of a second meal.
In addition to days of fasting, the Church observes days of abstinence on Fridays by not eating meat. This is in an effort to abstain from something good (which, because of its expense, is only eaten on festive occasions in many countries) in order to attain a spiritual goal, according to www.cin.org.
Fasting is observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but because Lent is supposed to be a time of prayer and repentance, it is appropriate to fast on any day during the season.
Though Easter does commemorate Christ’s death and the forgiveness of sins, this grace is clearly not confined to a season; while I know that is not what the Church is trying to teach, shouldn’t we focus on prayer and repentance during every season?
The more I researched this, the more rules I seemed to find. While the original Church had it laid out fairly simply, it seems like in modern times the Church has decreased the emphasis on these practices (fasting now includes snacks?); my question is: why are so many people giving up sweets, soda or junk food in preparation for Easter?
Are they trying to fast from their indulgences in an effort to honor God, or are they merely using the traditions of the season to help them cut down on bad habits for their own personal satisfaction?
The Catechism states that these 40 days are supposed to unite the Church with the mystery of Jesus – I can’t help but wonder if the personal gratification some get from losing weight while giving up their favorite treats is taking away from their search for a connection with the mystery of God or even the simple respect of trying to emulate Jesus’ 40-day fast by giving up something they enjoy.
According to the Web site, giving up something is a way to deny one’s self of something you enjoy in hopes of learning self-discipline so that you do not become “slaves to (your) pleasures.” And by giving up something that is not necessarily sinful you will be able to focus your priorities on what is important and be equipped to deny pleasures that are sinful.
So by giving up chocolate during Lent, I will then theoretically be better trained to say no when an actual spiritually demanding situation occurs, such as standing up for my faith or abstaining from sex before marriage.
Is it just me, or does that seem like kind of a leap? It seems much more logical that a person who practices his or her faith consistently throughout the year will be able to stand ground in tempting situations than someone who goes to church during Lent and strengthens his or her self-discipline by saying no to cookies.
Let’s be honest: saying no to chocolate and refraining from cheating on a test or abstaining from sex before marriage because it goes against what you believe in are not the same thing.
While I think a spiritual person who uses the traditions of Lent to strengthen his or her faith should be commended and respected, I don’t think you’re supposed to be excited about giving up sugar because it will help you lose weight.
At home, our pastor always asks members to come to the early service on Easter so the twice-a-year church crowd can fit in at the later service. Though I think it’s great that attendance is up on holidays, the practices of Lent and Easter are only special if they’re celebrating things you believe throughout the year.
Kathleen Thurber is a sophomore news-editorial journalism major from Colorado Springs, Colo.