A lot of people have a lot of ideas about Catholics. Among the misconceptions those concerning lent are the most prevalent. So let me help you out and clear things up.
- Ash Wednesday- Myth: we get ashes put on our foreheads as a sign that we're perfect/better than you/right etc, or we do it to flaunt our religion/superiority. Those are all wrong. First of all, although it is the most highly attended mass of the year (more than even Christmas and Easter) Ash Wednesday isn't even a holy day of obligation- we don't "have" to go. But we do. And for most of us Ash Wednesday is a very significant day that has nothing to do with any of the reasons I state above. It is, in a way, our new year. Through our lenten sacrifices we have the opportunity to bring ourselves close to God, and Ash Wednesday signals the start of this period. And the ashes are a great reminder- we are all imperfect. We are all sinners. We will all return to dust one day. The sermon and reading at my church yesterday were actually in exact opposition to the above statements- we heard the reading about the hypocrite, who doesn't bath and slumps so that you know he has been sacrificing, and who prays in public so that everyone knows how righteous he is. We are, instead, to pray in private, to keep our appearance neat and hide our sacrifices.
- Lenten Sacrifice- Giving up something for lent is frequently a discussion between Catholics and non-Catholics. We frequently get asked "why do you have to give something up?" The easy answer to that is that we don't. We don't have to. We aren't told "you will go to hell if you don't give something up for Lent." Giving up something for Lent is not a punishment or an obligation, it is an opportunity, a privilege even. Giving something up gives helps us to reflect upon our lives and how they relate to God. When you find yourself struggling with the sacrifice you have a chance to either give in or to pray. Even if you fail a few times the process should enrich your life and bring you closer to God.
- Meat on Fridays- This is simply another sacrifice, with the same purpose as above. But specifically giving up meat on Fridays also has another end- besides bringing us closer to God, the focus is also on those who don't have enough to eat every day. We are to avoid meat, not snack, and eat two small meals and only one normal sized meal, with the money we saved going into what is called a rice bowl (it's really just a little cardboard box or tube, usually). At the end of Lent this money is given to a missionary and used to feed those who don't have enough to eat. This is not the only time we give during the year, but it is one of the most involved forms of giving that most Catholics participate in (other than volunteering), because instead of just giving money we are giving money that is the direct result of physically giving something up, which I feel makes it more meaningful.
But as we age and mature the idea should become more spiritual and less superficial. Katie from Kitchen Stewardship put it really well two years ago in her post "I don't believe in giving up pizza for Lent." It should be something that you eat/do/use every day. Something that doesn't necessarily bring you closer to God. Something that is difficult to give up.
Often this comes in the form of food. The last two years I've given up grains and sugar. I like a big challenge like that, and the start of spring is the ideal time to give up sugar and grain health wise to detox and reset the metabolism after winter. Giving up those two large groups of food was something I had to deal with (and often struggle with) every day. And I won't lie- I wasn't 100% successful either time. But the point isn't to be 100% successful, just like the point isn't to be perfect all the time. We struggle. We fail. We sin. But we try.
This year, in a way, I'm making it a little easier on myself. And in some ways harder. I'm not giving up a food for Lent. I'm giving up Facebook.
As of mass last night I still didn't know what I was giving up. I had thought about it, but nothing had come to me. Despite my usual methodical and logical way of thinking, there are a few areas where I hate to force a decision and would rather just quietly wait for inspiration or divine intervention to strike (namely this and interior design). So I was listening to the sermon last night after a somewhat tumultuous day... okay, week... okay February so far.
I hate February. I've always hated February, as long as I can remember, and then my brother died in February which only made it more miserable for me. Even before then, though there's something about the season, or the way my body reacts to the season, that makes me completely and totally miserable (and therefore miserable to be around). My husband knows to avoid me as much as possible (and hopefully not to take my behavior personally). I am not myself. And it's been reflected in my interactions recently.
Yes, it sounds like I'm getting off on a tangent, but I'm not, I promise. My point is that I've been emotionally and physically drained lately. Facebook is making it worse, because about 90% of what I see on facebook ends up making me either annoyed or angry (notable exceptions- super secret facebook group- you know who you are!, and most of the updates from the blogs I follow).
When I give something up for Lent, I have some of my own criteria:
- Will it be a significant daily sacrifice?
- Will it make my life better anyway, in some way improving my health, mind, spirit, or family?
Don't worry, though, I'm only giving up my personal facebook page- I even went to far as to completely delete the facebook app from my phone, because part of the problem is that I get facebook alerts, and I have a really hard time ignoring them. However, I still have a separate app for my blog's facebook page, and I will still update it and check in on a daily basis. That tends to not have the same affect on me, and since I'm trying to build something here it wouldn't make any sense to abandon it now. SO if you ask me questions or make comments I'll still see them and reply.