Let me tell you about the embarrassing story of how my “best” Lent turned into my worst Easter.
After hearing of the Lenten adventures of my Eastern Orthodox friend, I decided one year to be hard-core about Lent. The Eastern Christians often give up meat, eggs, and dairy. In other words, they go fully vegan for Lent.
You can watch this video about Strict Lent by clicking here.
Upon hearing this, I gave up all meat, alcohol, and sweets/desserts for Lent. It was really tough, especially the “no meat” part of it. However, I toughed it out and had traveled the distance. As we entered Holy Week, I was staring down Easter like a lion tracking a gazelle. I was ready to descend from the 30,000 foot altitude of Lenten penance into the realm of chocolate, corn syrup, and filet mignon. After the Easter vigil, I came back from church and starting gorging on Cadberry eggs, those sickening fluffly Peeps, meat, wine, whiskey, cupcakes, and sugar cookies…
Unbeknownst to me, my body had spent more than forty days adjusting to my new lean and clean diet during Lent. My Lenten metabolism rebelled against the onslaught of sugar, flesh, and alcohol. The result: I was so sick on Easter. I spent the day feeling horrid. My Easter joy was robbed by gluttony.
I learned a solid lesson. A hard-core Lent that is full of penance is not necessarily a good Lent. Lent isn’t a survivor experiment. It’s a preparation for Easter. If you lose sight of Easter, your Lent is pointless.
What will you do for Lent this year? Every year I ask myself the same question. I’m not opposed to serious penance during Lent. Our Catholic forebears used to keep a strict Lent. They were spiritual giants in the old days. For the days of Lent, all Catholics ate no eggs, no dairy (milk, butter, cheese), and no flesh meat (pork, chicken, beef) AND only ate one meal per day after 3pm (after the hour of mercy). This applied to all laymen and all clerics. These rules of penance began to be relaxed in the 13th-14th century.
Now we only have fasts on Ash Wednesday and Friday and meatless Fridays in Lent. Our Lenten standards are comparably easy.
We are, of course, not required to keep the “old Lent,” nor should we try. We are not as holy as Catholics once were. We live in different times with different troubles (like pornography, evil movies, easy contraception, and abortion).
Still, we need to challenge ourselves, but be humble so that we don’t do the foolish thing that I did with my “crash and burn” Easter. We must discover the balance between earnest penance and humble acceptance of what we can handle.
How do you find that balance? I speak to my spiritual director and generally examine last year’s Lent. If last Lent was miserable, and I couldn’t handle it, I dial it down. If it was edifying, I pray about dialing it up. I clear everything through my priest.
Question: How do you discern what is “just right”? Please leave a comment and share your experiences. You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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