Temptation and guilt.
As a child, I had always been confused by the Valentine’s Day holiday intermixing with the season of Lent. We were given various treats in our handmade mailboxes, gum and chocolate, and I was always quite ready to indulge when that season came along.
Ash Wednesday meant going to church during the week, fasting, fish and a black dot on my forehead.
Although I questioned much, I have to admit that I always enjoyed the ash on the face part. Always amused with the smell of incense and ashes.
But I didn’t fully understand the concept of fasting. I always thought it meant that although we didn’t eat between meals, it meant that I would eat until I was under the table during lunch and supper. And the fasting meant no snacking in between (which I was so full by then, I wouldn’t have wanted to anyway).
And there was always the questions about certain drinks and foods. Was a milkshake off the list? How about vegetable soup broth? I was very willing to bend, if allowed.
There was also the question of who to ask when it came to these Lenten negotiations. Do I pray to God for an answer to my solid food questions? Would I ask my parish priest if I could indulge in my recent stash of holiday candy? I had other hesitations. Many others.
One included the fish issue. Where did that come from? When did Fridays become vegetarian/seafood day? Did Jesus come up with the concept?
All I knew is that I found it a tasty element of the Lenten season. Without fail, I could always count on eating my beloved McDonald’s Filet -O-Fish sandwich. Smattered with tarter sauce, this greasy concoction became an instant fave. I also didn’t mind hitting up the cheese and vegetable pizza combinations, as I have never cared much for the red meat variety.
So I became troubled at an early age. If I really enjoyed the food I was restricted to, was I really giving up something? Should I do a reversal? As I loved fish and vegetables, should I instead gag on a steak or painstakingly spread hundreds of pepperonis on my pizza?
At the age of 10, I was quite concerned with my contributions to Lent.
My biggest problem was with the idea of giving something else up until Easter. I have always needed more direction. If given the option to give up whatever I would want, I would start to get really thoughtful in a not-so sincere kind of way.
I would ponder soda. That would quickly be thrown out. Stop bickering with my brother and sister? No, we enjoyed that so. Usually I came up with the concept of being a “better person.” It was so vague, so uncertain. Even though I wasn’t technically giving something up, I always gave the excuse that I was giving up being a less better person. So it worked.
It could involve mentally being less judgmental, without having to give proof of my changed betterment. Or I could smile a bit more, so that others would think that I was nicer. Maybe it would just include cleaning my room or helping more with the dishes.
Unfortunately, even if that was my beginning thoughts, I seemed to find excuses for the season. If I did give up pop, I would always have leeway on Sunday, as that was the day of rest. (I had to obey other church laws too, you know).
As an adult, I still find it quite impossible at times to follow the Catholic traditions of Lent. I understand the concepts, the stories and understand more of why my family have been active participants. I also have changed my perspective on the whole concept of “giving up” something for Lent. It could mean volunteerism or something more, rather than just giving up chocolate.
But still, Wednesday, I will pass an inquisitive eye over my Filet-O-Fish before I down it with my French fries and Coke. I will think WWJD? After pondering deeply (or not so much), I will then enjoy.
P.S. With Ash Wednesday coming up, I would super love it if a Culver’s would pop up in NYC. I love me some North Atlantic Cod with a side of seasoned green beans!