There are things I miss about the Catholic church. There are traditions of the Catholic church that I think are...well...beautiful. Very beautiful. The traditions centered around the time of Easter in the Catholic church, could be a beautiful and intimate experience. The problem is...for a lot of people it is not beautiful or intimate. It's just another religious activity absent of sanctity. That is the problem with Lent.
Last year my friend made sure she got to church on the morning of Ash Wednesday to receive ashes. She proudly walked through her day with the prominent display of ash on her forehead. It was very important to her that others knew she had been 'ashed' that day and she looked for affiliates who had done the same. She excitedly asked her friends if they were going to get their ashes, too. Then, my friend, wanted me to know that she was giving up chocolate for Lent and had planned a whole month's worth of fish dinners for the upcoming Friday nights.
When I asked my friend what getting ashes meant to her. She wasn't sure. When I asked my friend if she knew what the ashes symbolized, she answered with an embarrassed "no". When I asked my friend the purpose in her abstinence from chocolate and red meat on Fridays, she was without explanation. I didn't ask my friend in order to embarrass her. I asked my friend because she was practicing something beautiful and I felt she owed it to herself and to God to know why she was actually doing it. While the Bible is not distinct in an outline specifically for 'Lent' and 'Ash Wednesday', it certainly covers fasting, abstinence, and symbolism and demonstrates the beauty in such acts. My friend was surprised. She had no idea what the Bible had to say about any of these things. My friend had never been taught to go to the text that inspired the Catholic church in the first place.
My friend is like so many I grew up with and know today who seemingly practice religious acts because they feel it is expected. It is what they do. It appears to be ingrained into their D.N.A.. So instead of knowing Christ as a friend and savior, people like my friend get caught up in the acts of things that should bring us closer to him but instead turn out to only be robotic behavior. Acting as a well-trained robot all whilst forsaking the holy Word of God that includes everything you ever needed to know about Jesus. Growing up, I just wasn't taught to seek the Good Book that informed. But I sure never ate a pepperoni pizza on Fridays and I really missed that ice cream I offered to give up. I just never really knew why I wasn't allowed those things. Therein lies the danger of doing things religiously. Because after a while, we forget why we do them at all. Religious acts become just that, acts without a purpose. That is the problem with Lent.
This season brings me frustration as I watch Facebook posts roll on by of all of the boasting of what has been given up for Lent. Soon after, followed by all the complaining about what people are missing that they have abstained from for Lent. I hear these kind of discussions everywhere. Even when I stand in line at McDonald's and hear the lady in front of me tell her friend she doesn't really want the fish sandwich today but, "You know, it's Friday". What kind of honoring sacrifice is it when we make sure everyone knows about it and then we gripe about it as well?