It always happens this time in February--the stirring of "what will we do for Lent" hits the Catholic blogs. I am, of course, one of those people who is beginning the thought process about how to approach Lent. What to do. What to read. What additional act of discipline will I bring to my life. Some folks contemplate a blog-fast. (I am not one of them.) Others think of physical fasting, and that is something that is prominent in my mind and heart this year. I think it might be my calling to actually do more strenuous fasting than I have in the past. We'll see. Discernment is everything.
This is a topic we have discussed in our Bible study many times. How many people look forward to Ash Wednesday and the rest of Lent. Our parish secretary will field literally hundreds of telephone calls asking about imposition of ashes in the three or four days before Ash Wednesday. And I think it speaks volumes about our culture. We know we are drowning in excess. And it feels good to consciously prune that excess back, even if only a little bit.
So, read the following comments with the understanding that I take Lent very seriously indeed.
One of the things that the Feasts of Judaism scripture study says is this:
Many religious people assume that fasting and self-denial is more virtuous than feasting and celebrating. But Judaism teaches, especially in the feast of Sukkot, that the appreciation and enjoyment of material goods and worldly pleasures are an essential religious concern. For the Jew, joy is a sacred gift to be relished and treasured. In fact the rabbis taught that, in the world to come, everyone will have to stand in judgment for every legitimate pleasure in this life that they rejected and failed to enjoy (Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12). The religious path to God includes enjoying good food, choice wine, nice clothes, loving sexual relations, and joyous moments with family and friends.
It exactly goes along with what our parish priest has told us many times: We know how to fast. We look forward to it. We feel holier when we do. We do not know how to feast and be joyful. We have no experience of true feasting, so we overdo it with material giving at Christmas, trying to reach some high point.
I happen to think he is right. Other than a meal at Easter, what will your family do to celebrate the great Feast? Yes, go to mass. Celebrate the liturgy (my favorite liturgies of the year are Holy Week ones). But how will you be bringing it home as celebration? The most wonderful thing in the world has happened! Do you look like it? Do you act like it? Could people tell?
So, yes, spend time in these last days before Lent preparing for the fast.
But spend some time during Lent preparing for the feast.