I’ve Decided to Observe Lent for the First Time

Why would I ever consider observing something “Catholic,” one might ask? Interestingly enough, I’ve been teaching the Gospel according to Matthew in Sunday school at Glendale Road, and we’re in chapter seven this coming Sunday which entails Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Chapter four, as you recall, presents to us His temptation in the wilderness, a forty-day period in which He fasted. I contend now, unlike previously, that Jesus’ fast enabled Him to withstand Satan’s temptations and serves as an example to us today that fasting, as a method of subduing our flesh and its desires, helps us to attune ourselves to the divine.

Having said that, I also have a friend who’s observing Lent—several actually—and she’s challenged me to do this very thing. Therefore, I’ve decided to participate. Before I go on with this conversation, let me make a few things clear:

  1. There is no word “Lent” in all of the Bible.
  2. There is no command to observe any season in the Bible for religious purposes, let alone that of Lent.
  3. There is no example of the church observing any similar season in the Bible.

As far as I see it, these are the facts.

Moving on from that, I was curious about this season of Lent, so I considered two sources—my Christian wife who was reared Roman Catholic, and the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity (2d. ed.). I asked my wife what she could tell me about Lent, and she said that it was a time, for her at least, when you couldn’t eat meat on Fridays and had to give up something. She said that the Church did a poor job educating young Catholics as to why they observed Lent, and to her, it was always an inconvenience. When reading about it, Lent was a forty-day fast period that began on Ash Wednesday (today) and ended on Holy Thursday just before Easter. It used to be that during these days, people considering conversion to Christianity would undergo forty days of religious instruction that culminated with their baptism on Easter Sunday—the day that was regarded as “the feast of feasts” because of Christ’s having arisen from the dead on that day. The word “Lent” itself is Anglo-Saxon and means “spring.” Not only did Jesus fast while He was tempted, but the disciples often fasted, so the exact duration of fasting in the earliest history of this religious observance was not uniform. Actually, the fasting period in the earliest associations with Lent was two days or forty hours. Since Jesus’ flesh was what was crucified, this became the reason for abstaining from meat during this season—especially on Friday, since that was the actual day of the week that Christ was crucified.

We celebrate the temporal holidays of the 4th of July, Mother’s and Father’s Day, New Year’s Eve and the like which are fashioned by the American Civic religious ethos. Should not our calendars be more Gospel shaped than secular shaped? If we are truly citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20), should not the things of heaven occupy us a great deal more than they do? Instead of viewing Lent as a “mere tradition” and an “empty ritual,” perhaps we can learn from it. According to my wife, the majority of people she knew shared her views about Lent when she was a girl. The people I’ve spoken with who observe it do so out of sincere devotion to God from what I can tell. If there’s anything we can learn, can it not be that we should be more spiritually disciplined? I enjoin upon no other the requirement of observing Lent any more than I would expect their criticism of my deciding to do it. This, at least, is my thinking and why I’ve decided to observe it for the first time this year.

As of today I am fasting from processed sugar, not natural sugar, but processed. My wife and I decided that we would not eat out during this period so she will make all of our meals, and we’ll have lunch together during the work week. In addition to this, I am going to begin my discipline of academic research and reading again—a discipline I have allowed to fade since obtaining my Ph.D. in 2016. I’m eager to give this period of abstinence, repentance, and devotion to God and equally keen to see how transformative it will be for me.

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