I gave up junk food (aka fast food) for Lent. That’s very nearly what I used to give up as a kid. Then, it was sodas and candy. Fast food back in the day was a piece of bologna with a slice of cheese on two pieces of Rainbo bread spread with mayo and mustard. So it wasn’t an issue to give it up.
When early Christians invented Lent, they called it quadragesima. That means 40 in Latin and it lasted only 40 hours so communicants could seriously fast for Easter Sunday communion. Now it’s the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. That’s not counting Sundays which get time off for good behavior since they are the Lord’s Day already.
It didn’t get called Lent until the 14th century. The word lent comes from a German word that means spring. The extended period of fasting probably originated for practical reasons since food stored during the previous fall was running low or going bad and no new crops would be available soon. That let hunger pangs be offered up for the poor souls in purgatory who had nobody to pray them out of their suffering. That’s who I offered my lack of Nehi grape soda and M & M’s for when I was a kid.
Before I got sober, I used to think about not drinking during Lent. I often made it for a week before deciding that I, like the Lenten day count, got Sundays off for good behavior. I didn’t too hard think about giving cigarettes up for Lent. That would have been too hard. I figured that God didn’t want me (or my family who would have borne the brunt of my nicotine withdrawal) to suffer THAT much. I did give up coffee once and was ready to amputate my head because of the caffeine withdrawal pains. In the end, God has been generous enough to relieve me of the cigarettes and the alcohol and let me keep the coffee.
I’m surprised by the people who don’t give up something for Lent. No reason they should, but I have a tendency to think that if I’m doing something, then everybody else is, too. I am not the trendsetter I think I am. There were a lot of people with ashy crosses on their foreheads last week. I wasn’t one of them although I did get ashes; I just wiped them off in the car on the way to work.
It’s funny. I haven’t called myself a Catholic in decades, but I still get the ashes. I also go to early morning Mass most day. That’s a practice I started after Jack died. Between Mass and centering prayer, I was able to quiet the voices in my head that grieving inspired. I went daily for more than a year, then had to drive Bobby to work and stopped. This Lent seemed like a good time to restart the practice. I like the quiet peace to start the day. And the good thing about Catholics is that you can stay invisible if you are a visitor, keep your eyes lowered, and look prayerful. Catholics respect your invisibility in a way that would make a Baptist break out in hives.
Every once in a while I run into friends from City Hall who drop in on the early Mass, but I always sit in the back near an exit in case someone looks like they might want to say hi. A couple of them have phoned to say, “Hey! Saw you at church. I didn’t know you were Catholic!” And I answer something flip like, “I’m not. I just like the bread.” We have a good laugh because they think I’m joking. So far, none of them have reported me to the priest. (Pssst, Father. That short blonde woman….not one of us…)