In reading and talking with assorted friends elsewhere, the details of the various lenten penances keeps coming up. What if you’re a vegetarian, do you have to do something extra? What if your favorite meals are meatless anyway? What if you are forced to go to a barbeque buffet on a friday (social obligation, large gathering, no one studying your plate)? What if your life is such absolute misery right now that though you had planned extra penances on top of the obligations, you are too sick to pull them off?
And meanwhile, here are the Orthodox, who don’t play around with their fasts.
My thought is this: Just do what the Church says.
The church doesn’t ask the impossible. We’re told when we fast, to eat enough to maintain strength. There are exemptions for people with medical needs that prohibit fasting or abstinence.
The Catholic Church takes sort of an opposite tack from the Orthodox, but either approach makes sense. Catholics are given a bare-minimum assignment, and reminded that we who can do more, should do more. Always. How we fill in that blank is up to the individual to discern. The Orthodox go hard and strong as a blanket policy, and then your priest directs you on how to modify your observance of the fast per your state in life and spiritual maturity. Two sides of the same coin: What you can do, you should do. What you cannot, you cannot.
As Catholics, I think our Lent Lite approach helps focus us on one thing: Obedience.
Not creativity, not “spirit of the law”, not Who Can Be the Saintliest. If you are vegetarian, it is easy to obey. If you are at the barbeque buffet forced to eat nothing but rice and mushy greenbeans and the little protein bar you stuffed in your pocket because you knew this was going to happen, well that’s a little harder. (The Orthodox are laughing at you, of course, as you offer up your macroni-and-cheese-eating, but never mind. They are laughing at all of us.)
But obedience. Simple, unfettered, unworried obedience. That seems to be message #1 the Church wants us to learn today.
[And yeah, it makes people super mad when you admit to it: That you’ll change your life in some small way for no other reason than The Church Says So. Which is kind of a perverse pleasure for us curmodgeons, thinking of who we can really shock and alarm by eating our tuna with such docility. Ha. Lent has its upsides.]
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