Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ash Wednesday

I thought I had blogged about The Cloister Walk a few months back when I read it, but I can't seem to find the post now. It's interesting to read an account of the Catholic practices from an adult, outsider's perspective. I went to Catholic school but learned just enough to think Catholicism was all about "Because I said so" rules and making people feel bad. That seemed to be the popular view of the church as well, and my parents, who went to Catholic schools themselves, seemed to agree. I felt a sort of relief when I left Catholic school and stopped going to mass, like I'd escaped from something. I'm starting to see things differently now that I'm older.

It probably helps that I work at a Catholic institution so I'm immersed in an environment where prayer is a natural part of the day, but I'm starting to see the point of all those rituals and even get curious about how they might fit back into my life. Everyone loves to celebrate Mardi Gras, but we're not, as a society, really big on things like fasting and voluntary deprivation. Catholics essentially went vegan during Lent in the Middle Ages, skipping not only meat but eggs and dairy products too. This is why yesterday was pancake/crepe/paczki day in cities where there are still a lot of Catholics. People wanted to use up all the foods they couldn't have during Lent. I'm not sure what they did eat, probably a lot of porridge. Days like today were, and still are for many people, fast days.

It sounds pretty tough, and if you see the point as punishment and strictness, it also seems pointless. But if you see it as an invitation to personal growth, a chance to develop some discipline and also develop sympathy for the poor, it makes more sense. I think those are much more worthy goals. Almost every religious culture has a tradition of ritual fasting, probably for these same reasons.

I overheard one of the sisters on campus talking to someone about "giving things up for Lent." She suggested that rather than setting a goal to give up some food item in the hopes of losing weight, it might be better to think of "giving back rather than giving up." We don't have much of a tradition of giving back in this society either.

Lots of stuff to think about today, and I will be in a good place to do it.


  1. My pastor and I were just talking about this idea. We were wondering if we should make a commitment to take on something instead of give up something. Thanks for making me think.

  2. I am so happy you wrote this. I am planning a Lent post for later today, and you helped me sort some of my thoughts. I agree 100% on the personal growth. I hope what I learn now continues throughout the year.

  3. One Lent I gave up gossip, which I defined as not saying anything about a person if I wasn't sure that I would have made the comment to their face. That sounded easy, but it was surprisingly difficult sometimes, when a person was being an ass but I knew telling them so would only make the situation worse.

    Also, I learned about other people. I never realized until then how almost everything one of my co-workers said was some form of gossip. The habit was ingrained in her; I don't think even she realized how pervasive it was.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07