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Lent: My Favorite Time of the Year

It's that time of the year again.

My sister and I went to A&P this weekend and played the "Guess who's Catholic?" game. This game consisted of going to the supermarket, asking each other what we were giving up for Lent food-wise. My sister tends to pull a hardcore Saint Benedict-like fast when it comes to I have to double-check about what she can and cannot eat before I find myself cooking for two and finding out that she'd given up meat and anything "unhealthy" for Lent. It looks like meat is out of the question this year (she always gives this'd think I'd get used to it by now).

Well, after stocking up on veggies, Greek yogurt, milk, and avoiding the meat aisle altogether...the game began. We piled box upon box of tilapia, shrimp, salmon, fish name it...into the basket (we should have gotten a cart!). When we had enough fish piled into our basket, we used our best game show host impersonation to ask "Guess who's Catholic?" If my parents had ever done that in a supermarket when I was young, I would have died of embarrassment. However, we thought it was pretty funny.

Today, in lab I was asked about the lab meeting dinner.

Lab Manager- "Hey Barb, what do you think....baked chicken parm or insert Mexican dish I can't remember to save my life?"

Me- "They both sound really good, but I'm out this I am probably not the best person to choose dinner."

Lab Manager- "Oh, are you missing lab meeting?"

Me- "No. It's Ash Wednesday tomorrow and I'm fasting."

Ah yes, Ash Wednesday...the day that starts off one of my favorite times of the year. It is beginning of a season of  penance, fasting, and a lot of reflection. It is a season that reminds us of our humble origins (for dust you are and dust you shall return). It is the time of the year where I take a deep look at my life (regardless of how busy I get) and reevaluate the things that need changing and the things that need improving. I take Lent very seriously...probably more seriously than I should. I fast, I pray, I reflect, I attempt to be more charitable, and I offer up all sorts of penance for my own soul and for the souls of others.

I was asked about the fasting by someone else in the lab. Why do I do it? I almost could not believe how easily my response rolled off my tongue. You'd probably expect a response like "Because I have to" or "because the Church says I should." However, the response I gave was quite different. I pretty much ended up giving a Cliff's Notes version of this post.

I fast in order to defeat my physical self and strengthen my spiritual self. I fast so that I can gain better self-control over my body and defeat the weaknesses that attempt to hinder my soul's purification during my time on earth. The fact is, I do believe that I have a physical form that is little more than that of a standard animal. My soul, however, is more like an angel than it is an animal. It is this part that ultimately makes me worthy of the presence of God. It is this component that must be nurtured and purged of all weakness, blemish, and sin. It is this component that I attempt to nurture and strengthen during Lent.

How do I do this? Well, I do it through penance, reflection, charity, and fasting. These are three tools that we can, hypothetically, use 365 days a year...but seldom do. Lent is almost like a wake up call for me. It reminds me of my own mortality by reminding me that even Christ suffered here on earth for 40 days and nights. It reminds me that I am a mortal being that cannot rely on material goods and conveniences when it comes to salvation. It reminds me that I need work. That I am not a perfect being. That I have been slacking in my spiritual life.

I love Lent because I have always found some manner of improving my inner self for 40 days each year. Sometimes, when I am truly blessed, the lessons I learn during one Lent season will carry on for the rest of my life. This blog was started during Lent and it has truly become one of the best things I have ever done for myself and for my vocation. Several years ago, a Lent retreat helped me repair a relationship that I had deemed lost (turned out to be more of a matter of pride than it did a lost cause). Lent has also helped me become more charitable in my own life...and more willing to put the needs of others above my own. Don't get me wrong. I am not perfect in any way and I am definitely not a least not yet. I still have lots of room for improvement...and Lent always turns out to be the best opportunity for me to attempt improvement.

Lent has given me some great lessons in improvement over the years. If I am able to fast for 24 hours during Lent in the name of Christ's suffering...then I am certainly less likely to complain the next time I cannot eat lunch on time. If I am able to go to make time to go to Ash Wednesday mass, I am able to make time to pray every other day of the year. If I am able to out myself as a Catholic every year by wearing ashes on my forehead, then I am able to out myself as a Catholic when it comes to standing up for my faith. If I am able to meditate on Christ's suffering for these 40 days, then I am better able to meditate on every other lesson he sought to teach us every other day of the year. If I can be more charitable during Lent, I can certainly be more charitable throughout the year.

Lent is the perfect season to toss bad habits and pick up good ones (especially because there are so many people on the same boat as you are). It is a time for me to shut out the world by quitting Facebook and use this extra time for prayers of thanksgiving, adoration, you name it. This is the time of the year to remind ourselves about the things that really matter in this life. Computers aren't important, chocolate isn't important, material things aren't important. These things come and go. However, a permanent improvement to your spirit, an improvement that ultimately leads to less sin and more piety....this is something that will follow you for the rest of your life.

  1. This year, I am giving up Facebook and using this otherwise wasted time for spiritual growth.
  2. This year I am going to strive to reflect upon all matters of the faith more often in order to better understand my faith and God's plan for me. 
  3. This year I am going to fast more least twice a week (one day for the souls of purgatory and one day for a personal intention). 
  4. This year I am giving up alcohol. 
  5. ....AND YOU GUESSED IT! No meat on Fridays.
I may add more onto this list as I go along...because my spiritual journey never seems to follow the rules (even when I start getting things right). 

I really do like Lent because it never fails to make me a better person (in some way or another). I also like Lent because it is a constant reminder of who I am as a Catholic. Not eating meat on Fridays is a great reminder to thank God before each meal. Not drinking even when I am out with friends is a great reminder of the mortifications that others experienced in the past in the name of faith (such as being called a mackerel snapper). Not being on Facebook is a great reminder of the talents I am wasting that I could otherwise be using to better glorify God (it should not take me months to finish a St. George drawing). Fasting will remind me of the people (living or deceased) in need of prayer, time, a good friend, etc. We were put on earth for various reasons. Ignoring others for the sake of our own needs is not one of these reasons. Reflecting upon matters of the faith should help me make more time for God and help me better understand the Lord I am attempting to serve and love above all else. Perhaps it may even help me bring more of Him into my own life and the lives of those around me through acts of charity. 

I really can't wait to see what sort of improvements God has planned for my soul this year!

Pax Vobiscum


  1. In my old lab, one of the postdocs was Greek and she used to bring in special treats made without all the ingredients that the Orthodox give up over Lent (one of these years, I'll figure out the rules and try it out), so everyone was clued into the fasting part of Lent. One of the Chinese postdocs did point out to me that I had dirt on my forehead, though.

  2. That is too awesome....thank you for sharing! I've also had something similar happen before in chemistry when a student from China asked a fellow student why people had marks on their foreheads.

  3. Great thoughts on Lent (and I could totally imagine the grocery store game!)... I just wanted to comment on your take that "I do believe that I have a physical form that is little more than that of a standard animal. My soul, however, is more like an angel than it is an animal. It is this part that ultimately makes me worthy of the presence of God"...
    The very difference between our human bodies and those of standard animals is that our bodies ARE ensouled. The soul and body are not two separable things, but rather, each is made with and about the other. Bl. John Paul II would say that "the body reveals the soul." So I think really it is not the sould that makes us worthy, because then there would have been no reason for God to take on a human body and allow that body to die for our salvation, right? It seems to me that it is the ensoulled body that makes us worthy ...

  4. Whoah! You are absolutely right. I think you may have worded the thoughts in my mind far better than I was able to do so in the post above. Thank you and my apologies if that portion of the post came off as a tad heretical.