Lent, also known as fish fry season, is upon us. Lent is the Catholic liturgical season spent in preparation for Easter. Catholics celebrate Lent to cleanse themselves of their sins and prepare themselves for the resurrection of Christ.
For some, Lent means no meat on Fridays; for others, Lent means making a sacrifice, fasting or doing a good deed every day.
My favorite part of Lent is no meat on Fridays. I know that this rule is viewed as a sacrifice by most, but not for me. I love seafood; I’m all about the fish fry events.
Growing up in a Catholic grade school and high school, every year around this time, everyone would ask me: “What are you giving up for Lent this year?” My response would always be the same: soda, junk food, candy, anything that I would normally consume every hour of every day. However, in recent years, the question has changed into, “What good action are you going to do for Lent?” This is what confuses me most about the season of Lent.
Catholics celebrate Lent because we recognize how Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us, and so we make a sacrifice of our own to show our appreciation. Doing a good deed should not be a substitute for sacrificing some aspect of your life. Acting with good moral intentions is fantastic and can be a challenge, at times; however, it should not be a challenge meant for the Lent season. As Christians it is part of our moral duty to always follow the Golden Rule and do good deeds.
The season of Lent should not be an excuse for followers of Christ to do a good deed once or twice a day to show their appreciation for Jesus’ sacrifice. Most people feel good about themselves after doing a good deed anyway, so in reality, you are not sacrificing anything. Making a sacrifice of some sort is meant to be a challenge whether it is sacrificing Doritos, a daily trip to Starbucks, ice cream or Pickleman’s.
If making a sacrifice is not a big enough challenge, Catholics may also choose to fast throughout the season of Lent. It is a rule to fast from meat on Fridays throughout the Lent season; however, some choose to go the extra mile. This concept of fasting is also referenced in the Bible: Matthew 6:16-18 says, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
We are not to boast about our sacrifices for Christ, for that would be hypocritical. Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday is meant as a kind of last chance to fill up on all of our favorite desserts to hold us over throughout the Lenten season.
Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, is Feb. 13. On this day, Catholics receive ashes on their forehead in a cross-like fashion. These ashes are another symbol of Catholics’ recognition of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. The song “Ashes” commonly played at Ash Wednesday services discusses the significance of these ashes, which are meant to help us remember why we celebrate Lent in the first place.
Ashes are a symbol of Catholics starting over again and renewing their commitment to Christ. The ashes mark our belief in Christ. There are many references to these ashes in the Bible: Genesis 3:19 says, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Walking around with ashes on my forehead in grade school, I did not understand the significance. Outside of school, people would say I had dirt on my head or give me a strange look. However, now I understand that ashes are not something to be mocked but something to be proud of. The ashes are a symbol of my faith.
However, this being said, just because one receives ashes does not indicate one is a devout Catholic. Just because one goes through the motions of receiving ashes or attending mass every Sunday does not give one the right to refer to themselves as a follower of Christ. The season of Lent is not only about the ashes we receive, the sacrifices we choose to make or how much we fast. The season of Lent should be a time of reflection for us all on how we have been behaving, or not behaving, as true followers of Christ.