The Great Fast (aka: Why I Would Make a Lousy Catholic)

Today marks the first day of Lent, and I have decided to observe it by giving up soccer. Haha, no, I’m just kidding. That’s crazy talk. But still, today marks the first day of Lent for many Christians around the world. While I myself do not observe the 40-Day Lenten period, I am fascinated by the idea of it, and the reasons for which some people choose to observe. Lent cross

The first time I ever heard of Lent was in high school, when a Catholic acquaintance of mine was showing off the ashes smudged on her head on Ash Wednesday. I, an evangelical Christian at the time, stared in wonder, having never heard of such a practice. Even more amazing, the girl explained that, during Lent, or the 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday, her family abstained from eating meat. It was then that I decided I never wanted to be Catholic.

Ashes for Ash Wednesday

Then, a few years ago, I made an acquaintance who was an Eastern Orthodox Christian. She happily explained her faith traditions to me, which make the Catholic Church’s rules pale by comparison. During the period of Lent (in this case, the 40 days leading up to Orthodox Easter Sunday), Orthodox Christians observe a very strict fast. They choose to abstain from eating any animal products, meat or dairy. They also abstain from eating oils or fats, and drinking wine. Basically, their meals during this period are very simple dishes, such as lentils, vegetable soup, and bread.

“But why would you want to forbid yourself from eating such things for so long?” I asked my acquaintance. To me, it seemed unreasonably strict, like a self-inflicted form of punishment.

“When you live your life constantly treating and indulging yourself,” my acquaintance explained, “then it becomes less pleasurable. But imagine choosing to abstain for a while from the things which bring you great pleasure. When you finally end the fast and indulge, then the reward is far greater.”

It made so much sense then. Of course, as she also explained, there are other reasons for fasting during Lent, such as being more spiritually awake and in tune with God, dedicating the body and spirit to prayer and thanksgiving, and helping the poor. Some people see it as a type of spiritual self-discipline, which helps them to be less focused on fulfilling the desires of the self and turning their focus outward, toward God and others.

Reasons to observe lent

And the thing is, I really like that idea. Religious or not, it seems such a positive thing to observe a period of being spiritually awake, and of denying the self and focusing on God, or the poor, or on being a better human being. On living as simply and humbly as possible, in order to realize, in the end, how blessed one truly is.

Now, I don’t think that I could spend an entire 40 days eating as strict a diet as an Orthodox Christian. And the Catholic version of fasting does not seem like a fast to me at all, since I already don’t eat much meat. However, many evangelical Christians, though it is not required by doctrine, choose to observe another form of the Great Fast. Some people give up money by giving to charities. Others give up their time by volunteering to help the poor. Still others give up some luxury that is important to them, such as chocolate, television, or caffeinated drinks. If I choose to participate in Lent, then perhaps I would consider this route. As long as I don’t have to give up soccer. Or tea. Or my iPad… Okay fine, I would probably suck at observing Lent.

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8 responses to “The Great Fast (aka: Why I Would Make a Lousy Catholic)

  1. This is a really interesting post, fascinating to someone like myself who comes from a nonreligious background. My only extensive contact with religion has been through reading religious texts in literature classes. I’m not a spiritual person and I’ve never had any interest in organized religion, and from the outside most traditions appear to be silly, or patently false, or both, and not generally interesting enough to learn about in any great depth.

    The recognition that in our modern society of overconsumption, over-abundance and over-indulgence, it might be a good idea to live with a tiny bit less for 1/10th of the year really resonates! 🙂 🙂

    • You know, if it resonates, then maybe you should give fasting a try. 😀 I actually did it the year my Eastern Orthodox acquaintance taught me about the Great Lent tradition she followed. I was intrigued, so I went the 40 days eating more or less vegan…lots of oatmeal, lentils, rice dishes, etc. I fed my family the usual, but made more simple meals, encouraging them to look forward to the Great Feast of Easter. And you know what? It really did make the holiday seem to be more exciting, indulging ourselves after purposely holding back for so long. A good period of self-discipline, with a rewarding ending.

  2. I think that it is a difficult thing to really learn about a religion or faith group solely from reading religious texts. Whether a person considers him or herself to be spiritual or not, I think that there is a great benefit that comes from learning about the major religions — why people choose to follow them, different ways that people interpret their faith or worship, and how those faiths have shaped civilization and culture.

    I can’t speak for other faith traditions, but I know that many Christians hold to the ideal taught in the Bible that one should not store his treasures on Earth, but in Heaven. In other words, materialism is a no-no. As are gluttony, judging others, favoring the wealthy, etc.

  3. As someone who grew up Catholic, I have to say not everyone gives up “meat” for lent. Honesty you are supposed to pick something that you over indulge in. I had a lot of friends growing up who would give up Chocolate. 😛 My mother gave up soda one year and never started drinking it again. I think it can be used as a great excuse to help break a bad eating habit lol

    • Ahh, I didn’t know that Catholics “fast” in that casual sort of way, like protestants. Yes, I can see how it would be helpful in breaking bad habits. 🙂 I don’t really have any food vices, though, and can easily give up anything, so that makes fasting harder, in a way. If it isn’t a true sacrifice, then what’s the point, right?

      • Well…you could give up tea 😛 LOL j/k but ya it’s supposed to be a sacrifice, something that is hard to give up and that you miss

  4. Oh and in England they have Pancake day on the day before lent. Because in the church of england they give up the animal stuffs too. So they have to use all the eggs, milk, butter..etc in the house so it’s doesn’t go to waste.

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