That time of year has come again. I’m talking about the 40 days of spring semester when many students have a constant question looming over their heads: “What are you giving up for Lent?” As a Catholic, I have been following this practice since childhood – 40 days without sweets, music, swearing, gossiping, etc. – but each Lent I’d look anxiously to Easter as the end of the dreaded 40-day penance. After starting college and looking more seriously into my faith, however, I discovered a beauty – and, most importantly, a point – in Lenten fasting.
For those not familiar, Lent is the 40 days preceding Easter during which Christians are encouraged to practice prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Fasting typically involves giving something up – either a vice, a habit or something one is fond of – for the duration of Lent. Ideally, Lent is a time to turn one’s life around and – with the help of prayer – make it better in preparation for Easter. Whether it be something bad for us or something we enjoy indulging in, whatever we abstain from is supposed to teach us self-discipline, self-knowledge and bring clarity of mind. In short, Lent is a time of conversion.
Approximately four years ago, I was first introduced to what I now refer to as “Sunday cheating,” the practice of breaking the Lenten fast on Sundays. Although I’d never heard of it before, it turns out Sunday cheating was not made up by lazy American college students (as I used to believe), but is actually founded on the notion that Sunday is a day of celebration and is, therefore, not included in the 40 Lenten days.
Breaking fast on Sunday to celebrate and honor that day is understandable, but how many times do we actually do that? Speaking from personal experience, this Lent was the first year I decided to try Sunday cheating, and my week turned into a collection of sighs as I impatiently waited for Sunday to come, not for the day’s sake, but so I could break my fast. Sundays have turned into break-the-fast-and-binge days to make the others less difficult, which defeats any purpose giving something up for Lent might have.
Fasting, which is done for the betterment of oneself and/or for the sake of sacrifice as a form of prayer, is undermined if Sunday is lived as a binge-day. Breaking fast every six days is neither helpful for the breaking of habits, nor does it make giving something up much of a sacrifice.
Getting into this mindset is ultimately harmful because it distracts from the true purpose of Lent, turning the fast into an unfounded rule we cannot wait to sneak around. Without a sense of understanding and reverence for Sunday as a day of celebration, the practice loses meaning and the day becomes one of counterproductive indulgence.
This Lent, then, I would urge those interested in practicing the fast – myself included – to take these 40 days as a chance to understand what it means for Lent to be a time of conversion and for Sunday to be a time of celebration, instead of simply going through the motions and living for the weekend. This will turn the days of fasting into an expression of love and a manifestation of a relationship with God and the Church as foundation of faith.
Letizia Mariani can be reached at email@example.com.