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Lenten Abstinence

March 7th, 2012by Dan Thomas

Ever since my wife Eileen and I were first married we made Friday night our date night. We nearly always went to a decent restaurant to enjoy good food and wonderful company. When our children came along, they became part of that experience and learned how to be part of the dining and sharing. An important part of that date for me was often having a good, medium-rare steak. This made the Lenten Friday abstinence difficult for me. About mid-Lent I was asking myself, “Why do I continue to follow this challenging regimen?”

Here are some of my reflections in answer to this struggle:

First there is the personal continuity; I’ve always done it. That is a phrase that is often said when someone (including myself) doesn’t want to make a change or accept a new practice. But in this case it means to me continuing a tradition that is challenging and difficult but brings a discipline that I need to practice.

A second thought is that there is continuity with a church tradition that we Catholics have kept for a long time. Again sometimes this can be a resistance to a needed change, but for me this is a practice that connects me to a community that I am supported by and that I hope my faithfulness gives support to as well.

The tradition of Lent with its three-fold disciplines (notice the connection to disciple here) of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is a way I continue to pass on what I have received. I become part of something beyond myself – bigger, wider, and longer than my own experience, needs, and values. I am incorporated into a community of faith that embraces me, those who have come before, my fellow-Catholics living now, and those who will follow.

Certainly, in many ways this is a very trite practice and my giving up my Friday night steak is not this incredible sacrifice for which I should be honored with a great reward! But I think it is in these trite practices that we make a faith that changes our lives (hopefully), preparing us for those more profound and significant choices that we have to make at various times in our lives. For me, it is especially the experience that I am not on this journey by myself that makes it possible to take each step on the way.

Dan Thomas

Dan Thomas is a retired Director of Religious Education, living in Dayton Ohio. His education includes graduation from Chaminade HS and the University of Dayton (MA in Pastoral Ministry). He is married with two adult sons and is a parishioner at St. Helen, Dayton.