Monday, February 26, 2007

Light Lenten Thoughts

Most of us spend the first six days of each week sowing wild oats, then we go to church on Sunday and pray for a crop failure. ~Fred Allen
It is the Lenten season, as the Kraft Food ads used to tell us. Lent, for the unaware, is a period of 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday and extending to Holy Thursday (Good Friday is technically not part of Lent). It is supposed to be a period of prayer, fasting, and self-examination, particularly for Catholics. Of course, in our modern times, most of the fasting rules have been relaxed to the point that we don't even see all the endless ads we once saw for tuna fish and cottage cheese dishes.
Ash Wednesday is preceded by Fat Tuesday (better known as Mardi Gras), during which people eat like pigs, drink like fish, and do things that they will absolutely need 40 days of prayer, fasting, and self-examination to atone for.
I was raised as a Catholic, although honesty compels me to point out that I no longer practice the faith. Lent was a big deal in those days, but, as I've gotten older, I find that it passes by without a lot of my attention being diverted to it. This year, though, I was struck by two things.
First, our local newspaper did an article on what Lent is. The first item in the piece was a statement claiming that Ash Wednesday occurred 40 days after Good Friday. The remainder of the article was equally accurate. I don't know if someone was smoking dope or just using the Internet as an information source, but the article was so bad that, two days later, the paper printed a complete reworking, along with an apology for lacking any editors who knew what Lent is.
Second, Mike Golic, of Mike and Mike in the Morning, the ESPN Radio morning sports program, began discussing with partner Mike Greenberg what he might be giving up for Lent. Mr. Greenberg, who is Jewish, took Mr. Golic to task on his initial suggestion that he give up coleslaw, which was followed by the offer to refrain from cornmeal. After several more bits of silliness like this, Mr. Golic decided he would give up sweets for Lent, a pretty traditional choice.
The following morning, though, a debate began over what constituted a “sweet.” For example, the former NFL player asked, is banana bread a sweet? It's made with fruit and called bread, so he should be able to “stuff my piehole”, as he quaintly put it, with banana bread for 40 days.
Mr. Greenberg, despite not being Catholic, was quick to point out that this was certainly a violation of the spirit of sacrifice, if not outright cheating. Based on this and the e-mails of many listeners, Mr. Golic ultimately backed down and admitted that banana bread would have to be off his diet (by the way, Mr. Golic endorses a weight-loss plan, so what's he doing eating sweets to begin with?).
At least Mr. Golic was doing better than the local radio personality who, last year, announced he was giving up the F-word for Lent. This jerk doesn't exactly understand the concept of sacrifice. But, then, there are a lot of concepts he doesn't understand.
The Mike and Mike episode reminded me of my youth. When I was a kid, my parents sent me to CCD classes, which stands for Catholic Christian Doctrine. If that doesn't sound familiar, it's also called Catechism, which most Catholic kids regard as serious penance to have to pay for being a kid. My parents were born, raised, and married in central Europe, where Catholicism was practiced in a very traditional manner, or at least, in a different manner than I was learning about in CCD. So, as I came home from Catechism and told them what I had learned, they were occasionally perplexed. Such was the case with “giving up” something for Lent.
In my parent's neck of the world, kids didn't give up candy bars or soft drinks for Lent, primarily because they didn't get much of that stuff to begin with. Actually, children were exempted from most of the fasting rules, except for the prohibitions against eating meat, because, well, they're children who are growing and shouldn't be fasting. As to giving up sweets or deserts, pretty much everyone gave those up for Lent as part of the more austere diet that was followed.
By the way, I don't know about other central Europeans, but I know that my parents knew every loophole in those dietary restrictions. If my dad got a sniffle, he was getting a regular meal, because if one is sick, one shouldn't weaken oneself further. Also, as long as there were no chunks of meat in the food, it was meatless, even if it was cooked in bacon grease. We never gave up our homemade beef soup during Lent; we just didn't eat the beef.
Anyway, when I came home and announced that I was supposed to give something up for Lent, my parents were rather confused. What did giving up candy bars or ice cream have to do with Lent? But, if that's what I wanted to do, and that's what the nuns said, then I had better do it. Of course, we seldom had candy bars in the house because my mother was an excellent baker. And, both parents made sure that any sacrificial promises I made were narrow enough to allow for the partaking of Mom's walnut-cream-filled yellow cake.
Mr. Golic should have talked to me before he made any rash commitments.

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