Usually this time of year, I've changed one of my usual habits. Maybe I've stopped reading fiction for the season. Maybe I'm practicing Lecto Divino through the public ministry of Jesus as I approach the holiest of weeks. Lent is what I'm talking about, of course. The forty days prior to the resurrection. I used to simply give up something--caffeine, sugar, something of importance to me gastronomically. But the last couple of years, I've wondered about this practicing of fasting--to whatever extent I do it--while Jesus is, metaphorically, anyway--alive, teaching and healing, and walking the dusty roads with his face turned toward Jerusalem. This is the season of life for Jesus. People are coming to Him in great crowds, lives are being changed. So I've wondered about Lent, which I think is mostly about slowing down enough to always be aware of Him as we head toward that wonderful, terrible week.
A month ago, when I was east of the mountains, I had dinner one Friday night with some of my relatives. As we ordered, I realized that I was the only one at the table not ordering fish. I remember when I was a little kid, whenever I went to one of my Catholic friends' homes on Friday nights, we were served fish sticks for dinner. Every single Friday night--fish sticks. And frankly, I neer really quite understood it. Was it representing how Jesus fed the masses with the fish and loaves? Was it a matter of denying oneself of 'meat' in order to focus on Christ? After Vatican Two, the mandate to not eat meat on Fridays was reduced to the Fridays during Lent, but the question is still valid. I'm always interested in why certain churches practice what they do, how those practices line up with the gospel. So last month, while I ate my Oriental Chicken salad, I asked my relatives why no meat. I was told that this sacrifice (especially for my hardworking, farming relatives, not eating red meat is quite a sacrifice!) makes us hungry for Christ, reminds us that He alone satisfies our hunger. I'm telling you, too, if we adhered to this practice, J would go hungry every single Friday. J's attitude toward fish is a succinct "Yuck!'.
I do love the reasoning behind this choice. I love that, at least for my family, it's well-thought-out, and makes sense. Anything we do that makes us pay more attention sounds good to me. Because that's what I think this season is about. Doing something that causes us to pay more attention to the Incarnate. The days are short now, even though the sun stays longer and longer in the sky. The hour is coming when the Son of Man, the very Begotten Son not only of God but of Man as well, will suffer and die. We're about ten days away now. Jesus' sandals have caught up with his face, and everything is turned toward His date with the Jewish leaders now. The wide lenses of the gospel writers, used to tell the story of Jesus' life in broad strokes early, are increasingly tightening so that in just another couple days, the telephoto lens will be put on and we'll see every moment in isolation. And though I didn't do anything for the 40 days we call Lent, I want my lenses ready too, I want to pay minute attention to the details of this glorious story. This fairy tale that is true!