It happened again last week. And, just as it has in the past, it caught me completely off-guard.
I was at 5:15 Mass on Ash Wednesday, and hoping that my stomach wouldn’t start growling during the quiet parts of the Mass. This was a possibility not only because it was getting close to dinner time, but because I had followed the Lenten restrictions for Ash Wednesday, which are to abstain from eating meat, to refrain from eating between meals, and to have only one full meal during the day. Two other small meals are allowed, but together they should not add up to the equivalent of a full meal. All I’d had to eat so far that day was a protein bar for breakfast, and some tuna and a glass of milk for lunch.
The priest’s homily that day was about the three disciplines recommended during Lent – fasting, prayer, and alms-giving. While explaining the guidelines for the “fast and abstinence” part, he stated that the rules apply to all those who are over 14 years of age, and not yet 60.
That’s when it hit me: I don’t have to do this anymore.
I probably should have been delighted, rather than dismayed, with the realization. After all, it meant I could quit stocking up on canned tuna every year as Lent approaches. And if I wanted to, I could celebrate by going out for pizza – sausage and pepperoni – for dinner.
But all I could focus on was that I was at the other end of the age requirement. The age that seemed so old and far away when I was a child, getting ready to deal with giving up candy or my favorite television programs for Lent.
For the record, I had salad and a banana for dinner that night. Even though I’m no longer bound by the rules of fast and abstinence during Lent, I intend to follow them anyway. Partly because I still consider myself young and healthy enough to do so, and partly because they are such an ingrained tradition in my life that it would feel strange not to. But even more than that, I want to honor the point and the purpose of having the rules and regulations in the first place, which is as a means of planning and preparing for all that is to come, and all that I will be celebrating on Easter Sunday.
The older I get, the more thought I give to what it means to sacrifice, and to train and discipline myself for “doing without” during this 40-day period. I also focus more on what I can give, not just what I can give up, during Lent. Donations to the poor and needy are obvious considerations, but there are many ways to help and give to others who are in need. And not just with money, but with time and attention, with a genuine smile or compliment, or with a word of encouragement or understanding.
Perhaps reaching the other end of the age range for Lenten regulations isn’t in consideration of the fact that I may be getting too old and feeble to adhere to them safely. Rather, it could be an acknowledgment that I’ve reached an age where discipline of the spirit is more important and more valuable than discipline of the body. Instead of being concerned about the food I am eating or giving up, I am better served by concentrating on what I am feeding my soul.
And that’s definitely food for thought. For the forty days of Lent, and for the rest of my life.
The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on March 13, 2014.
©Betty Liedtke, 2014
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