Posted by Censor Librorum on Feb 8, 2009 | Categories: Arts & Letters, History, Popes

“What should we give up for Lent?” I asked my wife recently. But the usual choices–chocolate, dessert–weren’t appealing and  felt  superficial. In past times it seemed clever to combine Lenten “give-ups” with shaving off five pounds in time for the beach. Not this year.

Last year I promised to put $5 in the charity box every time I used a curse word. The poor box at church made out quite well by the end of Lent, with a big boost from one especially bad day at work which netted $50 before noon.

Once, about two weeks before Easter–when my resolution really starts to wobble–Lori and I were at a Friendly’s near Middletown, NY. That year, we had given up chocolate but not dessert. I noticed one of the sundaes included M&Ms candies.  

When the waitress came over to take our order I said: “I have a religious question. I gave up candy for Lent, but if I order the “M&M Sundae” does it…”I didn’t even get to the word “count” before she burst out: “It counts! It’s been tried before!   It counts!” friendly1.jpg

So much for “wiggle room” during Lent at Friendly’s.

I had to settle for the hot fudge sundae, and sneak sideways glances at my (probably protestant) neighbor in the next booth slurping down a sundae with M&Ms. It looked delicious. It was all I could do not to grab it and run out the door. There is something about sin that just makes things taste better, even though you (always!) regret it later.

The above all fell under the proscribed “give-ups” for Lent, but never impacted my spiritual life in any meaningful way. I justed felt deprived, and tried to turn it into a grace.

But three things converged this year to make me rethink my Lenten practices.

The first was receipt of a notice by Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry’s “Church in the 21st Century” announcing their spring series  would focus on “the riches of the Catholic tradition of spiritual practices.” One lecture in particular caught my eye. “Christian Spiritual Practices: Drawing from the Storeroom Both the Old and the New.” I made a note to explore what ancient practice I could use this Lent.

The second came to me from Zenit, the Vatican news service.   The February 3rd edition included Pope Benedict’s Lenten Message for 2009:

“Dear Brothers and Sisters!

As the beginning of Lent, which constitutes an itinerary of more intense spiritual training, the Liturgy sets before us again three penitential practices that are very dear to the biblical and Christian tradition–prayer, almsgiving, fasting–to prepare us to better celebrate Easter and thus experience God’s power that, as we shall hear in the Paschal Vigil, ‘dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy, casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride’ (Paschal Praeconium). For this year’s Lenten Message, I wish to focus my reflections especially on the value and meaning of fasting.”

You can read the message in its entirety here.  (For the record, I do particularly appreciate the Holy Father’s outspokeness for the protection of the environment, the disproportionate impact of environmental degradation on the poor, and his willingness to take the gloss off of some of Pope John Paul II’s favorites, including Fr. Marcial Mariel and the Virgin Mary apparations as seen by the six “visionaries” of Medjugorje.)

The third was stumbling upon an Ancient Practices Series book entitled Fasting by Scot McKnight, the popular Jesus Creed blogger and Anabaptist theologian. I thumbed through the book while I was browsing at Barnes & Noble on Friday. He inspired me to consider diferent fasts this Lent.

A search on Google led me to Carole Gardibaldi Rogers, a writer, poet and oral historian whose backgound is both Roman Catholic and Jewish. Her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Reporter, America and Commonweal, including one or two on fasting. Her book, Fasting – Exploring a Great Spiritual Practice, will be my companion guide this Lenten season. fasting-by-carole1.jpg

Besides the usual fasts on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and the abstinence from meat on Friday (when every cheeseburger in the world seems to jump in my face, and the scent of bacon wafts from every open diner door) I will resolve to clothe myself in the armour of the Lord and keep walking. But this year I plan to go beyond and make every Friday my weekly fast day.

This Lent, Lori and I also  decided to fast from spending money. That is, the spending on consumables–particularly those we love, like books, chocolate, going out to dinner,  tickets to shows and sport events,  antiques, stuff for the house, outdoor goods…anything. All discretionary spending will end for 40 days beginning Febuary 25th.  

The pain has already set in.   I’m going to miss the one New York Knicks basketball  game I was going to see this season – February 25th at the Garden against the Hornets.  

It will be interesting to see just how much discipline will be involved not to give my body and my imagination whatever it wants,  the moment it wants it. And discover just how much of my life is an impulse dedicated to the daily gratification of my wants and needs.

How hard is it going to be to get beyond them?  

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One Response to “Fasting”

  1. Thom Says:

    What a wonderful idea. Perhaps you’ll find at the end of the glorious 40 days that some of the expendables don’t need to be picked back up! (Just don’t neglect to feed money to your webhost. I’d hate to see Nihil Obstat go the way of Lenten give-ups!)

    My Lenten plan, while in its preliminary stages, is to adopt a meatless monastic diet, and add the daytime Hours.

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