Some whys and hows of Lent
DON'T WORRY, you won't be condemned to hell if you give up something for Lent and then stumble. At least I hope not.
When I was younger, I once gave up chocolate but succumbed to temptation and ate the ears off a chocolate bunny about a week before Easter.
Heck, you are not doomed to eternal damnation even if you do not celebrate or participate in the Lenten season.
At least that's what I believe.
Still, a lot of Christians each year have the sign of the cross drawn in ash on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday and go on to fast for the 40-day stretch (not including Sundays) to Easter.
Some people give up something for the duration of Lent. Some do not eat meat on Fridays. Have you seen the parking lot at Red Lobster on a Friday in Lent?
Not all Christians celebrate Lent, and it's not just a "Catholic thing," either. Lent is one of the most, if not the most, important times of the year for many Christians around the world.
I'm a Lutheran and have a master's of religion degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminar in Gettysburg. I grew up outside Latrobe, Pa., and Lent has been a big part of my life each spring since my earliest memory. Episcopals, Presbyterians, Methodists and other Protestant denominations also observe the season.
Why do we do it? After all, a liturgical season that begins with a stark reminder of your eventual death - the ashes are humbling reminder of our mortality - and also asks for more than a month of sacrifice or service could be very unpopular.
There are a variety of answers.
Many people give up something they like as a small sacrifice in recognition of the sacrifice of Jesus we will recognize on Good Friday. Others take the time to try to dedicate themselves to a project that helps others. It is a good time as any to rededicate your life to one of service.
I'm going to try to give up fast food during Lent and hope that the habit sticks. It'll be rough because the lure of the drive-through lane is strong. Wish me luck.
Based on conversations I've had with other fasters throughout the years, many people give up something like meat simply because they always have. It's a tradition and a part of their life.
That is fine, too, in my book.
I asked readers about their Lenten observations and heard some really interesting thoughts via Facebook from those who don't fast.
"I strive every day of the year to get close to God and give up the things that hinder my relationship with him," wrote Albert Valdez.
While Richard Lucky doesn't observe Lent, he's fine with the concept. "My wife, who is Catholic, does," he said. "If doing this makes her or anyone else feel closer to God, then I think it's a good thing."
Robert Davis had a different take. "I'm going to give up on 'giving up,' " he said. "I'm gonna start trying."
My own intent during the Lenten season is to regenerate my spirit. If you see me in some drive-through lane, you have my permission to run up and holler, "Don't do it, man!" Not because you're worried that wrath from above will be dealt upon me, but because my wallet and my health need a break.
Brook Stockberger writes about religion at the Las Cruces Sun-News in Las Cruces, N.M. His column appears here via the McClatchy-Tribune News Service. Have thoughts of your own on Faith Matters? Call editor Becky Batcha at 215-854-5757 if you'd like to submit a column for the paper.