By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published March 19, 2009
Lent presents a dilemma for vegans, vegetarians and those folks like me who happen to love seafood. The mandatory requirement of abstaining from meat on Friday during Lent is not a problem for us since we might gladly choose a seafood or meatless meal every day of the week. In spite of that, the tradition of the Church, which identifies the Fridays of Lent as days of abstinence from meat, remains a requirement for Catholics. But for those categories of people who do not find that requirement particularly penitential, we must also find a practice that we can follow that will indeed be penitential for us.
Fasting is not dieting since the end of dieting is a more svelte figure and the end of fasting is a more humble and contrite spirit. Lent is a season for mortification and self-discipline, and each one of us is called to find the right recipe to achieve that end and purpose.
The prayers of Lent are beautiful reminders of what we are supposed to be about and each individual should listen to those prayers in light of his or her own condition and situation.
“Father, you have taught us to overcome our sins by prayer, fasting, and works of mercy. When we are discouraged by our weakness, give us confidence in your love. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” (Opening prayer for the third Sunday of Lent.)
We are all occasionally discouraged in our penitential practices because we are weak human beings and changing the human heart and spirit is tough work. That is why we must choose our penances carefully so that they work for us and can achieve the transformation for which we long.
Most of us think of penances as “giving something up” that we enjoy and generally those are the practices that we pursue. We tend to give up desserts or chocolates.
Archbishop Benito Cocchi of Modena-Nonantola, Italy, even suggested that people of his diocese “fast” from sending text messages, at least on the Fridays of Lent. However, that contemporary penance might be a greater sacrifice than many of today’s adolescents could endure. But the privation of a pleasure is the ordinary form of penance.
I would like to suggest a penance—and it is still not too late to embrace this practice—that would change not only our own hearts but even the lives and hearts of others. This Lent, perhaps we could give up gossiping as a mortification that would not only enrich our own lives but enrich the lives of others as well.
If many of our youngsters are hopelessly addicted to text messaging, then our entire world is caught up in the salacious pursue of scandalous gossip and rumor. We are no longer satisfied with the outrageous headline stories that appear in the grocery store tabloids. Television has made a very profitable niche with the stories of public celebrities and their scandalous escapades. Even the televised news reports are saturated with the shocking exploits of the rich and famous—often these stories are little more than televised gossip, and even if they may be true, it is difficult to see how they enhance or enrich society with the telling.
What if this Lent we all, from the newest catechumen to the most senior cleric, decided to fast from gossip and rumor? What an Easter would dawn in this local Church as reputations would be restored, rumors would cease, and personal integrity would be respected.
Each penance should fit the person and not be so difficult as to guarantee frustration and ultimate failure. Maybe fasting from gossip and rumor would be as challenging as refraining from text messaging for many youngsters. Perhaps we should just stick to going without chocolates.