Matt Lorrain, Pastor
St. John the Baptist Church
It begins on Ash Wednesday with the notable signing of ashes on one’s forehead. The signing is accompanied by the command to “Repent and believe in the Gospel,” or the sober reminder to “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Both formulas are a call to conversion.
This outward sign of repentance is a reminder that Christians do not always live up to our baptismal call to love as Jesus loved. Sinful attitudes and behaviors creep into our lives and need to be recognized and corrected. This can be difficult to do by ourselves but we draw support and encouragement from the community as we undertake this spiritual journey of conversion together.
Catholics abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. While this practice has lost some of its intended purpose here in south Louisiana, the goal remains the same: to bring about a spiritual purification by denying oneself a material feast of rich foods. A simple, meatless meal causes one to reflect that one does not live by bread alone.
Fasting from certain foods or pleasures can often yield a rich spiritual reward. Children tend to give up sweets, soft drinks, television, or video games for Lent, and by so doing set a wonderful example for parents and other adults. Adults may go without alcohol, coffee, television, or social media for the forty days of Lent. If the forty days seem to pass slowly, then we probably selected a very appropriate penance for ourselves.
Voluntary fasting is meant to produce a greater sense of compassion for the less fortunate, as well as a greater sense of gratitude for one’s many blessings. The prophet Isaiah says that if our fasting leads to quarreling then we are probably doing it wrong. It’s time to look in the mirror and figure out what is making me so irritable and disagreeable. And chances are it is not the discipline of Lent, or fasting, or other people, but me.
Lastly, we try to supplement our Lenten fasting with charitable works and spiritual activities. We may join a Bible study, volunteer at a food bank or soup kitchen, visit the homebound, or attend the Stations of the Cross. In so doing we are providing multiple opportunities for God to fill us with his grace so that we may grow in faith and love in preparation for Easter.