When we start Lent with a day like Ash Wednesday, it sets a somewhat somber tone for the season. This is a season of sacrifice, penance, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Definitely sounds like a no-fun zone. Thinking about doing something that makes you happy? Save it for Easter! This is at least how many Catholics look at Lent.
We Roman Catholics have an infatuation with rules and regulations. Tell us when and how, and we’ll do it by measuring out the prescribed requirements in our attempts to keep kosher. One little slip from the norms and suddenly some of us start to fear the pains of hell.
On the other hand, one slip up a few days in, and some of us will suddenly think it simply wasn’t a good idea, and consider the few days of the failed attempt to be enough.Before we talk about how to handle slip ups, we need to address our intentions for our Lenten promises.
First off, let’s get this straight – God doesn’t need your sacrifice.
Our Heavenly Father is no pagan deity waiting for a thirst to be appeased. Our Lenten promises are for our own sake and journey toward holiness. These sacrifices are a way in which we express our love and dependence upon our Lord, and they strengthen our discipline and self-control.
Our sacrifices shouldn’t make us feel like God owes us or as if we did Him a favor. Nor should it boost our ego to remind us of how much we are able to do on our own. Lent is not a competition of piety.
Lent isn’t about ripping out all joy from your life, that would counter to the Gospel. In fact, our sacrifices should lead us to a greater joy and deeper connection with Christ by uniting ourselves to His cross. Sometimes we Christians observe Lent like it’s a punishment and complain about the sacrifices. This is when we are doing it all wrong.
Here are some common questions I hear about Lenten promises:
What do I do if I slipped on my Lenten Promise?
Don’t beat yourself up about it – Jesus won’t hate you. Use it as a learning experience and reminder of our needed dependence on Him. Dust your shoulders off, reach up for the Lord’s hand, and get back up.
Is it a sin to eat meat on Fridays in Lent?
Unless you’re sick, pregnant, under 14, over 59 or have another serious reason, the Church does consider it sinful to intentionally eat meat on Fridays in Lent and should be taken to confession.
I completely forgot that it was Friday. What if I ate meat?
It is only a sin if it is done so intentionally without a serious reason not to abstain. In our day and age, there are plenty of ways to set reminders that it’s a no-meat day. It just takes a little preparation.
I can’t keep to anything. Do I have to give up something?
In short, yes. The Church doesn’t require specifics on how or what to do for a Lenten promise, but we are asked to do some sort of sacrifice. The Church only asks that of us because Jesus Himself asks it of us in the Gospel.
Can I have what I gave up on Sundays during Lent?
Please see my post: Do you count Sundays in Lent?
“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from His mighty power.”
– Ephesians 6:10 (NAB)