Lending ourselves to Lent

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

Holy Week will be upon us next week and with it the usual dramatic, sometimes hokey, practices that come with the season. But there are a lot of misunderstood things about it, particularly with regard to the matter of penances. This article, albeit a tad late (and borrowing heavily from apologist Jimmy Akin), will discuss some of the penitential practices for Lent.

Lent actually will end this Holy Thursday, which then signals the start of the Triduum. Of course, Lent began (when else?) the midnight ushering in Ash Wednesday. For the mathematically inclined, while traditionally considered to last for 40 days, Lent really is 44 days long (technically, a little less than 44 as it ends on the evening of Holy Thursday).

Within the season of Lent, if you are between the ages of 18-60 (unless you have a medical condition making fasting hazardous), there is the obligation to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Children, of course, are not required to fast. Nevertheless, parents are duty bound to instruct their kids on the tenets of the faith (and this includes preparing them for fasting when they’re of age). To fast means to eat only one full meal a day, plus two smaller meals. The two smaller meals should not equal into one full meal. The problem then becomes the size of the meals. But really, one should not get hung up on the latter requirement (regarding the smaller meals). If one checks the 1966 Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini, particularly Norm III.2, it says: "The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing -- as far as quantity and quality are concerned -- approved local custom." But then some wise guy would ask: how is the total to be determined, by units, weight, or calories? However, that would be ridiculous. As I’ve said, people should not get hung up on this -- the important thing is the intent. As we shall see, we do this not really just to comply with a set of rules. Lent is essentially a love story.

To "fast" is different from "abstention" or "to abstain." For Catholics who are above 14 years of age and not suffering from a medical condition that will be sorely aggravated by the abstinence, it is an obligation to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, every Friday of Lent, and Good Friday. The basis for this (aside from the Code of Canon Law, CIC 1251) is again the 1966 Apostolic constitution Paenitemini. Norm III.1 says: "The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat." By "meat" is meant the flesh of land-dwelling mammals and birds. Fish is, therefore, permitted. By dint of statutory construction on Church documents, soups made from meat are now apparently not covered by the rules on abstinence.

Now don’t ask me why (this is just way too much research) but the opinion of learned theologians say that abstinence would not cover reptiles, amphibians, or insects. So to eat frog legs (particularly the yummy ones from Coral Garden) is allowed. It’s also actually okay to eat whales (unendangered ones please!) or dolphins, being water-based mammals. Gravies (which are essentially made of meat juices) are fine, as well as those made from parts (not the actual meat) of land-dwelling animals such as milk, cheese, and eggs. Jell-O (made from horse’s hooves) can be eaten during Lent.

Apparently, you can give yourself a break during the Sundays of Lent. However, it is imperative that at least once between Ash Wednesday and Trinity Sunday we receive Communion (obviously, while in a state of grace, i.e., free from mortal sin by taking the sacrament of Confession).

But, again, one should not view the foregoing as a series of rules but rather acts we do out of love, to share in His suffering, Him who loves us unconditionally, who taught us to love others as He loved us. The words of one priest serve as a good reminder on how to actually approach the spirit of penance not only in this season of Lent but for every day of the year: "Penance is fulfilling exactly the timetable you have fixed for yourself ... Penance means being very charitable at all times toward those around you, starting with the members of your own family ... It is to give patient answers to people who are boring and annoying ... Penance consists in putting up good-humouredly with the thousand and one little pinpricks of each day; in not abandoning your job ... For parents and, in general, for those whose work involves supervision or teaching, penance is to correct whenever it is necessary."

Indeed, Lent, the Holy Week, and the spirit of penance teaches us that the better kind of love is that directed toward others rather than merely toward ourselves.