A Status Update on Lent

We’re less than a week into Lent, and already I’m having trouble keeping my Lenten “resolutions.”

As a kid, I did what most of my friends were doing, give up candy. Or chocolate. Or sweets. One year I gave up potato chips.

It was hard, but knowing I only had to do it for six days eased the pain.

Back then, it was common practice to relax the Lenten “penance” on Sundays. I’d lie in bed on Saturday nights, watching the clock for 11:59, then race downstairs and break into that bag of candy.

It never tasted better!

But as I’ve matured, so has the Church. We’ve come to realize that giving up sweets or alcohol or even Facebook (yeah, some people do that!), then eagerly waiting for Sunday, isn’t exactly what Lent is about.

Lent is that period of 40 days reminiscent of our Lord’s desert fast, when at the end He was tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:1). It also recalls the Israelites’ wanderings in the desert for 40 years (Nm. 14:34). Catholic and some Protestant churches urge members to become more like Jesus, giving up sin and turning our lives over to Him — not just for 40 days but forever. It’s all about conversion.

A tall order, huh?

So imagine my distress when I looked at the calendar and realized how often I’ve “broken” my Lenten intentions!

You see, this year I decided I’d try to root out my growing tendency to be critical and complaining.

When things don’t go my way, I grumble like the Israelites of long ago. When other drivers make “stupid” moves, I criticize. When politicians play “fast cash” with my hard-earned dollars, I complain.

I’m not proud of it. I don’t like it, and I want to root it out. Lent seemed like a good time for that. After all, “experts” generally agree it takes 21 days to break a bad habit, and Lent would give me nearly twice that.

I envisioned myself becoming kind and loving, tolerant and patient. More like Jesus.

So far, I’m failing. Miserably.

A guy in a pickup nearly slammed broadside into me yesterday, and I complained and criticized. Loudly.

Election signs and ads are popping up everywhere, and nobody seems to have a clue how to fix what everybody knows is broken. So I grumble.

Psychologists say the more automatic your bad habit is, the harder it will be to break it.

Small comfort.

But I’ll keep pushing toward Easter. A few misses along the way won’t derail the process.

And even if I can’t totally eradicate this habit during Lent, at least I’m conscious of it. And that’s really the first step.

How are you coming with your Lenten observance?

Fish Fry Fridays

One of the things I like best about Lent is our Catholic tradition of hosting “Fish Fry Fridays.”

Back in the day, Catholics had to abstain from all meat on Fridays — every Friday. But when the Church relaxed its rules (permitting meat on Fridays except during the 40-day period of Lent and on Ash Wednesday), Catholics turned to fish. Reason tells me that was probably to help a struggling fishing industry somewhere, but oh well, fish is a good choice.

Who but a kid can exist for a whole day on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches or macaroni-and-cheese?

In many parishes, it’s the men — often members of the Knights of Columbus — who do the cooking and serving at Fish Fries. Usually, you can find the ladies or the youth group helping by carrying trays for senior citizens, taking up the money, cleaning tables.

It’s nice when everybody gets involved. Kind of homey.

Wise organizers of parish Fish Fries encourage lots of active participation — something about many hands making little work.

And generally, the group hosting the Fish Fry returns a portion of the proceeds back to the parish.

So everybody wins.

The menu typically features any or all of the following: deep-fried pieces of fish, hush puppies, French fries, baked potatoes, coleslaw, applesauce, baked beans, green beans, grilled cheese sandwiches, bread, rolls, lemonade, iced tea, hot coffee, cold beer, and desserts.

Catholics and non-Catholics alike come out to enjoy Friday Fish Fries. Many stick around for the socializing; others opt for carry-out.

But staying is part of the fun.

Fish Fries offer a chance to get together with folks you might not see every day.

And they’re excellent for would-be politicians seeking to “press the flesh” while supporting a worthy cause!

Most parishes hold Fish Fries at the school cafeteria or their parish hall. Those facilities are already paid for (or in the process of being paid for!); they seat a lot of people, are close to the Church, and have things like TVs and kitchens, bathrooms and game rooms for the kids.

As for the time, Fish Fries typically occur during the dinner hour. Parishes often try to hold their weekly Stations of the Cross observance then, too, to “capture” the early or late diners.

With so much fun and good food, Fridays seem more of a celebration than a punishment!