Was I a better Catholic if I also avoided chocolate on Sundays? Did God love me more if I went above and beyond, or less for not following the rules? And was Jesus eating snacks at the Last Supper, seeing as it wasn’t technically part of Lent? Should I?
I wonder how much of this kind of mindset continues to lurk in the shadows of my recent Lenten journeys, pulling the strings as I give up or take up something. After all, it’s so much easier to point to rules and regulations and call that the voyage of faith, rather than to cast yourself into the endless, tumultuous ocean of God’s love and allow yourself to be tossed about in all directions.
Nevertheless, each Ash Wednesday I erect a scaffolding of dos and don’ts, and somewhere around day 11, I inadvertently trip over the doorframe and the whole structure comes tumbling down. And who has the energy to rebuild? I’ll just wait until next year. (Because 40 days of fasting only comes around once a year, right?)
So, mindset matters. Commitment matters, too. But it’s funny, because God has already told us exactly what God has in mind regarding fasting:
Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking off every yoke?
Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry,
bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own flesh?
We commit to do our best. We endeavor to become the best version of ourselves. But we do so within a very particular context: building up the reign of God in the here and now.
Pope Francis, in his 2014 Lenten message, said it well: “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty.”