In just a few days it will be Ash Wednesday, a special time for penitence begins in preparation for the Easter season when we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
I see an interesting similarity between the way many people (including myself) observe Lent and the way that most people try to lose weight.
Dieting and exercise for weight loss is all the rage, multi-billion dollar industries; people are looking for the fastest way to lose pounds, preferably with little to no inconvenience or discomfort.
Most people start on whatever diet or exercise program they choose with a goal in mind, whether it be the loss of a certain number of pounds or few inches around the waist so they can fit into smaller pants. Most folks adhere to their diet or workout routine for a little while and even see some results, but then conclude that it is too hard, inconvenient, expensive, or whatever and give up. Some people actually achieve their goals or get “close enough”, then the diet/exercise program, having served its purpose, is abandoned.
Of course, once they are off their program a vast majority of people quickly put on weight again, often times gaining MORE weight than they lost originally.
What people fail to realize is that there is diet and dieting…and they are not the same. Dieting carries the connotation of being temporary, a means to an end. But a person’s diet is a much more permanent thing. Ask anyone who has lost a substantial amount of weight AND kept it off for a long time and they will tell you that they made permanent changes in the way that they eat. The same holds true for exercise programs, if they are made part of someones day to day life permanently they are very effective, if they are just temporary, merely a means to an end, they may return some fleeting benefit, but once they are discontinued that benefit quickly disappears.
If one really wants to lose weight, I recommend making small changes to their diet and small increases in their level of activity. When I say small, I don’t mean negligible, but I caution against making BIG changes that will be hard to maintain over time. Granted, this is NOT the fastest way to drop pounds, but it will be steady progress. Once these small changes have become good habits if you haven’t reached your target weight, make some more MINOR changes. This steady progress will eventually get you where you want to be.
How does all this relate to Lent? Well, the season of Lent is a prescribed time of penitence. We are told for 40 days to examine our conscience, seek reconciliation, fast and abstain; all this to prepare ourselves for Easter. If we follow this prescription, we will reap spiritual benefits. During the season of Lent, we have two days of fasting and we must abstain from meat on Fridays, these are common acts of penance that have been part of our Faith from the early days fo the Church. But what about AFTER Lent, when we are no longer as mindful of our sins, offenses and failings? Are we like the dieter, who having lost the 15 pounds reverts to his old habits and puts on another 20?
Maybe this Lent we should commit ourselves to being mindful of our sins and penitent not just for 40 days but as a lifestyle. Now I am not recommending a new wardrobe of nothing but sackcloth…what I am recommending is making small changes.
Remembering that all Fridays are days of penance, even outside of Lent, an easy change may be to continue to practice abstinence (or perform some other act of penance) each and every Friday.
We are required to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, how hard would it be to attend one weekday Mass each month? How about weekly?
Would it be difficult to fast a couple of extra days a year?
In the “old days” Advent (the season leading up to Christmas) also was a penitential season. Would it be hard to live the four weeks before Christmas by the same rules we abide by during Lent?
I think that I am going to implement some of this in my life. Don’t ask me what part(s), that is between God and me…I won’t ask you about it either, but if you have a comment and want to leave it, fine by me!