Forgive me while I do something in this post that you will rarely see me do and that's talk about religion. My personal religion is one of the very few things that I make off-limits to my blog along with the more intimate workings of my personal relationships.
But after reading responses to a number of posts out in the blogosphere about Lent and Lenten sacrifices, I just felt the urge to talk about it briefly here. I'm not intending to get preachy. I'm not trying to convert anyone. That's really not how I operate. I just want to offer to you a bit of a history lesson in the 'this is why we do what we do' sort of way. I'm not saying it's the right way, it's just what I choose to do because it makes sense to me and it's part of who I am.
TIME OUT FOR A DISCLAIMER: If you're going to read this post only to bash my religion or anyone else's in the comments, you may leave now. This is not the place for it. I will delete your comment. However, you are more than welcome to voice disagreement if you do it in a respectful manner.
What I've seen in the past couple of days is a lot of 'I don't get it,' and I totally understand that. Catholics have some weird traditions. Most of those traditions have roots in some sort of spiritual meaning, although it might be hard to figure them out because the traditions are so old. (And thankfully many of the traditions not rooted in spiritual meaning, like, say indulgences, are no longer part of the church).
Even though I grew up Catholic among a very Catholic family (have I ever mentioned my mom has 10 siblings?), I've spent plenty of time exploring religion, especially my own. I don't want to be Catholic because my mom is. I want to be Catholic because I understand what being Catholic is and accept it. So here's my best explanation of why Catholics do what they do for Lent from what I've learned over the years ...
Em was absolutely right in that doing things for Lent should be just as important as giving up things for Lent. In fact, in the Catholic church there are three basic pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and giving. Each one is designed to bring you closer to God in some way. Those pillars go along with the gajillion other practices we do between now and Easter.
The prayer is self-explanatory. I suppose giving is too. Fasting or giving things up represent sacrifice. It's supposed to be a prompt to pray more. It's supposed to bring us closer not only to God, but to each other. Why do Catholics give up meat (or mammal, as the case may be)? Because it was symbolic of the food that the hungry cannot afford for themselves. And Catholicism is all about humility (in the religious sense not the dictionary sense) and serving the poor and helpless. There's a practice many Catholics follow during Lent called Rice Bowl -- you fast for a meal and take the money you would have spent on it and give it to the hungry instead. We give up things for Lent in order to better ourselves in preparation to renew our connection to God come Easter.
(Takes a breath). Here's a good extended explanation of Catholics and Lent if you're a glutton for punishment. If you have questions, just ask. I'll try to answer or find the answer.
Now, that said. I did already have plans for a couple of service projects to do in the next 40 days before I mused yesterday about what I was giving up. That much was easy to work out on my own. And I actually had a much better idea this morning on what to give up. I love buying new clothes, but I don't need them. I look at how many clothes I have in my closet, and I'm embarrassed. I could be giving that money to the poor. So, no new clothes until after Easter. Going hand in hand with that will be doing a major closet clean out and clothes donation.
I'm still planning on cutting back on Facebook. Em asked if that would be a real sacrifice for me, and the answer is yes. Working the weird hours I do, which involves a lot of late nights and weekends, I find myself sitting around a lot at times when none of my friends are available to hang out or chat. What's the next best thing? Stalking them on Facebook. I spend way too much time doing it when I should be doing other things. (Apparently giving up Facebook is the trendy thing to do this year.)
Anyhow, that's the last you'll probably hear from me in a long, long while about any of this. Because there's something else Catholic about giving things up for Lent and fasting -- you're supposed to be humble about it. That means no whining or bragging about it.
(Takes another breath).