Sirach 1:1-10 (All wisdom comes from the Lord and with him it remains forever)
Psalm 93:1ab, 1cd-2, 5 (The Lord is king, robed in majesty)
Mark 9:14-29 ("Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!”)
NOTE: The book of Sirach is part of the Apocrypha, those books and sections of the Bible considered canonical by Roman Catholics but removed in the King James Version and other versions used by non-Catholic Christian denominations. To read this passage, visit www.nccbuscc.org/nab/readings/022309.sht
After yesterday's long yet meaningful introduction, I thought I'd take today's post to review with the readers the special rules for Lent that Catholics are supposed to observe, with a few tongue-in-cheek observations following. Catholics between ages 14 and 60 are bound by these rules, unless medical condition directs otherwise. Once you hit 60 you are exempt from them.
1. On Ash Wednesday and all Fridays between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, Catholics are obliged to refrain from eating meat and most meat by-products.
2. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Catholics are to fast – this is defined as eating one full meatless meal and two smaller meatless meals.
This is real good fodder for a bunch of relatively meaningless questions, especially since I stated in yesterday's post that Lent is not about meatless Fridays or fasting. Among them:
If chicken (a meat) is taboo, why aren't eggs? And why is fish allowed?
Why is there such a fuss over getting a dispensation from the bishop to hold St. Patrick's Day corned beef and cabbage fund-raising dinners? (Let alone the St. Joseph's Day Sweet Table!)
Does a Snickers bar and a Red Bull constitute a “light meatless meal?”
And my favorite comes from the late comedian George Carlin:
“You're out on a cruise, and you crave a hot dog, and it's Friday night. You wait as patiently as you can, and finally it's 12 Midnight; and Friday's over. Time to eat that hot dog! But then the boat crosses the International Date Line...is that a sin, Father?”
Is it any wonder that Sirach opens his book stating, “All wisdom comes from the Lord, and with him it remains forever?”
Well, to answer the questions in the simplest sense, the best answer is “it's a mystery.”
And it just about is. The Lenten rules as they are today are scarcely what they were centuries ago. Yes, the call to fast is symbolic of Jesus' fast of forty days in the desert.
Abstaining from meat was another matter. I really have no answer as to why eggs and fish are okay. Some claim as conjecture that as Jesus' apostles were fishermen, we were obligated to support that industry for at least one meal a week over the course of the year. Consider that in days before refrigeration, meat especially had to be cured and preserved using more natural means. Storage was a problem, especially after the temperature got above freezing. So things like meat had to be consumed before winter began to ease into spring. The older regulations forbade things like eggs, too; as well as yeast and other leavening agents. Since these items would spoil if left unused, there was a big push in the last days before Ash Wednesday to prepare and consume meat and other foods with eggs and/or yeast. Hence, the pre-Lenten traditions of Pancake Tuesday and paczkis (pronounced punch-keys), a Polish pastry similar to and richer than a jelly-filled donut.
So, in the culture of past history, we managed to create one of many rich food 'holidays' that we somehow have to pay for bodily later. But there is hope.
The Lenten rules as they are today don't stop you from eating healthy. Fresh fruits and vegetables in season are never taboo. You only have to eat a little less, and that's only on two days of the next fifty.
Maybe it's time to take a look at what you eat and make a goal of tweaking your menu into some better choices. Eat out less. Prepare food from old family recipes – even if they're a little richer – instead of from food manufacturer's recipes on the side of the box.
Your body, a temple of the Holy Spirit, will thank you. What you don't spend on fast food, convenience food and "fine" dining can fill better purposes elsewhere. It might even provide some stock for the local food pantry.
Then start working on exercise. I may provide some spiritual ones through my writing, you can never tell. I'll leave the physical up to you.