Lentsanity and the meat police. March 4, 2014Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: Ash Wednesday, Lent, Lenten fast, Lenten sacrifice, Lentsanity, meat police, PopeAlarm
Silence Dogood here. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, is tomorrow. As a result, I’ve been receiving some unintentionally hilarious e-mails from an organization called “PopeAlarm” (which, despite its name, isn’t trying to alarm anyone about the Pope but rather to spread the faith through timely updates). This year, they’re promoting “Lentsanity,” featuring a giveaway of 20 spiritual books plus two “special penitential prizes” (a whip and a hair shirt, no doubt).
The concept of the special penitential prizes, well-intentioned though they doubtless were, just about killed me. But today’s update was even more hilarious: You can now get a free Lentsanity app featuring the meat police. Every Friday in Lent, as you’re about to shove a forkful of bacon or slice of pepperoni pizza or burger in your mouth, you’ll get a warning from the meat police part of the app reminding you that meat is off-limits on Friday. Bad dog! No, no!!!
As a vegetarian, it’s screamingly funny to me that it’s considered such a huge sacrifice to give up meat for a whole day a week for the 40-day period of Lent, even though, of course, fish, which is somehow not considered meat but is definitely considered a sacrifice, is still allowed.
There are so many foods that don’t contain meat or fish and are perfectly delicious and filling: fettucine Alfredo with vegetables, penne with vodka sauce, good old spaghetti with marinara and cheese, mac’n’cheese, cheese pizza with veggie toppings, eggplant parmigiana, Szechuan bean curd and rice, eggplant with garlic sauce, vegetable fried rice, vegetable lo mein, General Tso’s bean curd, vegetable curry, dal, falafel sandwiches, hummus wraps, bean and cheese burritos or tacos, vegetarian bean chili, black bean soup. And on and on and on.
But even these don’t reflect the true spirit of the Lenten sacrifice. The Church in her wisdom recognized that most people in the Middle Ages who lived in cold climates, such as France, England, and Germany, ran out of pretty much everything by February, and were left cold and hungry with little to nothing. So they made a virtue of necessity and instituted the Lenten fast. Today’s Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), Carnivale, etc. were the final feasts, meant to use up the last of the butter, oil and sweeteners and revel in abundance one last time before the hunger set in. From Ash Wednesday to Easter, everyone could suffer daily, hourly deprivation and relate on a very physical level to the sufferings of the Lord who died for them.
In modern times, our sacrifices and sufferings have been a bit reduced. Giving up meat for fish one day a week doesn’t really seem like much of a sacrifice. But neither does giving up Coca-Cola and chocolate, my favorite indulgences, which I used to “sacrifice” every Lent. In my own family, there was a saying that long predated modern supermarkets, “I’m giving up watermelon for Lent.” Watermelon was only available in late summer, long after Lent was gone.
All of which is simply to say that perhaps the idea of “giving up” for Lent is a mistake in our comparatively opulent age. The whole point of giving something up—be it meat, your morning cup of coffee, your favorite creamy salad dressing, doughnuts or muffins, beer or wine—is that, each time you mindlessly reach for whatever you normally mindlessly indulge in, you recall the ultimate sacrifice of the Lord who died that you might live. The more banal, trivial, the thing you give up, as in chewing gum or your favorite TV show, the more often you automatically reach for it, the more effective giving it up is as a Lenten sacrifice.
But what about adding on instead? What about adding morning prayers to your family’s pre-breakfast routine, reading the Bible together, going to church more often, volunteering at a soup kitchen or assisted-living facility? Our Lord never turned His face from anyone in need. He cherished the poor and outcast. This Lent, rather than bemoaning that we have to give up meat for—gasp—a whole day every week and eat fish instead, still taking life but oh what a sacrifice, we might try to think what a meaningful Lenten sacrifice (such as actually fasting, refraining from food) or adding-on (such as serious prayer and meditation and helping those less fortunate than ourselves) might be.
Meanwhile, watch out for those meat police.
‘Til next time,