Lenten Gameplan, 2021

Ash Wednesday, 2021

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (Matthew 6:16-18)

Every year, I think about the contrast between this verse (which is read aloud at mass) and the common practice of walking around in public for hours with a forehead full of ashes proclaiming your fast. This year, the ubiquitous facemask resolves this contradiction. I can even post a picture of myself on this blog—the mask imposes a certain humility, as you’ll never really know if the photo above is me after mass, or a photo of someone else I scrounged off Getty Images.

As usual, I’m giving up something for Lent. Unlike other years, I won’t mention what it is. I’ve learned to look for something that comforts me, but where that comfort leads me to avoid confronting an underlying problem, and/or that comfort keeps me from seeking refuge in God.

In this podcast, Matt Fradd takes the first ten minutes to give some practical advice on giving up stuff for Lent. My summary:

  • Be specific. (What exactly are you giving up, under what circumstances?)
  • Keep it simple. (Better to give up one thing than try and fail to give up two.)
  • Tell people your plan if that will make it more likely you follow through.
  • You’re under no obligation to find something extra to give up; your normal Lenten obligations are your only obligations.
  • Should you skip Sundays since they are technically not fasting days? A: “You can remit what you yourself impose.”

Am I content with my hypocrisies, or do I work to free my heart from the duplicity and falsehood that tie it down? (Pope Francis)

Mass this year was not much different than other COVID masses. For the imposition of ashes, the bishop used a fresh q-tip for each person. (One person replenished the supply while a deacon held a little container for the discards.) Most of the time when the priest puts ashes on your forehead, he uses his thumb, and steadies his hand by placing some fingers or even the heel of his hand on your face. There has not been much contact transmission of COVID, but having the priest put his hand on the face of everyone in the congregation does seem like a bad idea. (Like a lot of COVID precautions, it seems like one that might carry over to post-pandemic times.)

The biggest fasting news since last Ash Wednesday was probably this study that showed that intermittent fasting, specifically fasting 16 hours of every 24, did not help with weight loss or insulin issues. They concluded: “Time-restricted eating did not confer weight loss or cardiometabolic benefits in this study.”

Jacob, a non-religious Lent practitioner of many years, writes about “past Lenten give-ups” and notes: “The key to Lent is choosing something interesting to give up. This isn’t like New Year’s resolutions, where you’re explicitly trying to better yourself– as I understand it there isn’t really a morality angle to what you choose to give up for Lent. I mean you could give up something that’s bad for you, something good for you, or something neutral. The only thing that matters is it should be something that’s difficult for you to go without. It should be a challenge…. Of [the things I’ve given up], the one that got me in the most arguments was ‘Movies Made After 1965’, the one that was the most fucked-up was ‘Apologizing’, and the one that was the best for me in a general sense was probably ‘Snooze Button’. ‘Snooze Button’ and ‘Processed Sugar’ I did a few times…. I’m not a Bible lawyer but I think defining things in terms of a crutch cast aside is helpful to the process.”

Lenten Gameplan, 2019

Fasting: At last, Facebook has become a miserable enough experience that it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to give it up. So the likely candidates this year are the old classics: giving up (some) sugar, giving up caffeine, and so on. There are so many fasting fads these days, I might play around with a few, more out of curiosity than spiritual discipline.

Prayer: This year, for the first time in a long time, I’m already doing plenty of praying by myself and with my various communities. My plan is to maintain these, in Lenten form, but not add much extra work.

Reading List: Kugel’s How to Read the Bible (because why not provoke a crisis of faith during Lent?), Hart’s weird New Testament translation (at least the Gospel of John, more if it seems helpful), the Catechism (spread out at around 20 pages per Lenten day, stopping at the nearest chapter/article/section break), and Dorothy Day’s diaries (stopping each day when I’m as inspired or discouraged as I need to be). Lent is 6½ weeks, so that feels like plenty of reading to me. (Looking at the stack, I notice that a bonus Lenten sacrifice may end up being “carrying heavy books.”) In the unlikely event I need to fill more time with reading, I have ebooks of St. Thérèse, Girard’s I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, Spitzer’s How to Find True Happiness, and Pilgrim’s Progress at hand. This might be the perfect Lent to include some books or films on clergy sex abuse, but I am already reading tons on that, believe me.

Scent List: Zoologist’s perfume “Bat,” which Luca Turin observes is built around geosmin, the chemical odor of wet dirt and beets. Maybe the closest thing you’re going to get to ashes, but not incense-y, but not bad. Really only something I’m using on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Lent is not a self-help guide, but about entering Paschal Mystery:

The purpose of Lent, therefore, is a microcosm of the life and worldview of the Christian believer. Knowing themselves to be the sons and daughters of the Resurrection, everything they think, feel, and do is placed in the light and hope of eternity. This gives the disciple of Jesus Christ the strength to forgive an enemy, control their sexual passions, suffer patiently, and selflessly serve others. When the Resurrection is lived and heaven is seen as a real possibility for the righteous, then everything is worth it and everything becomes ordered to it.

Praying for Peace in Syria

This afternoon, 16 people demonstrated in Worcester’s Lincoln Square against a US military strike in Syria. Some of them were praying; some not.


Pope Francis has asked all Catholics to pray and fast for peace in Syria this Saturday:

May the plea for peace rise up and touch the heart of everyone so that they may lay down their weapons and be let themselves be led by the desire for peace.

To this end, brothers and sisters, I have decided to proclaim for the whole Church on 7 September next, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace, a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, the Middle East, and throughout the world, and I also invite each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will, to participate, in whatever way they can, in this initiative.

On 7 September, in Saint Peter’s Square, here, from 19:00 until 24:00, we will gather in prayer and in a spirit of penance, invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world. Humanity needs to see these gestures of peace and to hear words of hope and peace! I ask all the local churches, in addition to fasting, that they gather to pray for this intention.

Related: Catholic Bishops’ Policy Chair Urges Secretary Kerry To Work For Ceasefire, Serious Negotiations In Syria, Bob Waldrop’s Getting Us Into Wars

Telegram & Gazette photo

No guidance on veg fasting from UK bishops

The Catholic Bishops of England and Wales last week decided “to re-establish the practice of Friday penance in the lives of the faithful as a clear and distinctive mark of their own Catholic identity.”

In practice, this means a return to “no meat on Fridays” for British Catholics.

From the resolution:

The Bishops have decided to re-establish the practice that this should be fulfilled by abstaining from meat. Those who cannot or choose not to eat meat as part of their normal diet should abstain from some other food of which they regularly partake.

Nice nod to vegetarianism. As a long time vegan, I always fret about what “some other food” I should give up Fridays in Lent. Soy seems an obvious one, but has tended to be more annoying than helpful. I’m curious to see if UK veg Catholics develop any traditions and practices around “some other food.”

I’m having a hard time at the moment (as I sometimes do, just worse), and I’m drawn to the idea of re-establishing weekly penance in my life. Prayer and fasting are always my last resort when I’m having a hard time, despite the fact that they most always work. One of the great blessings of going to mass with the late Father Bernie every Friday was that every week he’d encourage us to pray, and every week I’d think “Oh yeah, forgot about that,” and then I’d pray for a day or two, and many issues would be resolved. And then by the next Friday I’d already be out of the habit and in need of another reminder.

Guantanamo fast: Day 7

Today I’m feeling better–not sick at all. Getting a little skinny, but fasting for 2 more days will be no big deal. Thinking of the scores of Guantanamo prisoners being force-fed, which only happens if they’ve stopped eating for 3 weeks or are below 85% of healthy weight. Fasting is easy, even a very positive experience, when surrounded by a large, supportive group. Stuck in prison, I’d imagine it would take a lot of despair to stop you from eating for so long.

We started the day with most folks attending mass, then went to the White House. We finished the day at Union Station with a children’s “Peace Train” mini-parade hoping to meet Obama at the station. (I think the kids had to leave before he arrived.)

Fast for Justice: Day Four

Today was the fourth day of our nine-day fast for justice for Guantanamo detainees. Well over a hundred people are now part of the fast, about a third of them in Washington, DC.

Today, as we marched to the National Press Club dressed as detainees, we learned that our photo was on page B1 of the Washington Post, illustrating an article about how activist groups are choosing to engage with Obama. The photo was taken during the very short time we were at Obama HQ.

In the Washington Post

At the Press Club there was a summit/press conference of “Major Human Rights Groups” discussing their proposed agendas for Obama’s first 100 days. We took part, with Matt Daloisio giving a couple short speeches. (Witness Against Torture is by no means a major human rights group, but I guess it’s clunky to title your press release “Major Human Rights Groups (And A Small Group Of Troublemakers) Meet in D.C.”)

Beth Brockman, at the beginning of todays’ public vigil:

So how am I holding up? I am still dog tired, and I think I’m getting sick. Let’s hope it’s just a touch of dehydration or something. I’m dreaming of eight hours’ sleep and a solid meal.

Fast for Justice Day 3: Obama HQ

At this point more than 100 people are part of a nine-day liquid-only fast to call for the closing of Guantanamo and speedy justice for the detainees. Today, those of us in DC demonstrated (very briefly) at Obama HQ. David Meieran shot this clip.

Spending several hours wearing a hood, walking and standing quietly amidst dozens of identical figures, was a big change from running around dealing with internet and multimedia stuff. Very prayerful.

Fast to close Guantanamo, Day 2

Obama is now saying that he would like to start closing the Guantanamo prison soon, but that it may take a really long time. As Spencer Ackerman says, “I could not be more confused now.”

I am doing pretty good on day 2 of the fast, and so are my fellow fasters. There are now more than 100 people fasting; we’ve posted some of their bios.

Four cups of fancy protein drink daily are not cutting it–this afternoon I felt like crap. A few cups of fruit juice fixed the problem. I’ll probably start mixing the protein drink with juice instead of water, and add a quart of juice daily on top of that. We’ll see how it goes. You’re going to have moments of lethargy while fasting, but if your regimen is causing problems on day 2, you’re not going to make it to day 9 without adjustments.

Video of yesterday’s kickoff event made it to several foreign news channels and was shown at least once on CNN. This Al Jazeera clip with Bud Courtney is a pretty good representation of what was going on:

One of my tasks is gathering video and blog posts from the fasters. There’s a large crowd, and a real diversity of thoughts on this thing. Anna Brown’s reflection is worth reading and touches on a spiritual/mystical angle of the fast. Maybe if energy and talent allow, tomorrow I’ll post something thoughtful myself.

Nine days of prayer and fasting for an end to U.S. torture

100 Days Project to Close GuantanamoI’m joining more than 60 people on January 11, 2009 — the seventh anniversary of the opening of American detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — in a nine-day, liquid-only fast to encourage President-Elect Barack Obama to keep his promise to shut down Guantanamo and end torture in his first days of office.

At DuPont Circle Park in Washington, DC, at 12:45 pm, leading human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, and 9-11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, will call for an end to the Bush policies, justice for the detainees, and accountability for US crimes. 100-200 demonstrators wearing orange jumpsuits and hoods will have a prisoner procession to dramatize the plight of the detainees still at Guantanamo.

The fast ends on Inauguration Day, when we begin a 100 day campaign to close the prison.

This will be my longest fast to date. I’m skeptical about “detoxification” and other health claims made for fasting, but fasting has always cured my spiritual malaise and helped me refocus my life.

What will my fast be like? I have this goofy super-health-food protein drink, vegan but not raw. My plan is to have 2 servings a day (440 calories) of this for the first week or so, then re-evaluate. I think most of the other fasters will stick to juice. (8 ounces of unsweetened orange juice is 112 calories, and apple juice is 117 calories.) I’m also going to avoid caffeine and alcohol.

If you’ll be fasting, in DC or elsewhere, let me know and we’ll link to your account on the 100 Days website.

100 Days co-organizer Matt Daloisio talks about the campaign:

Worcester Lenten Prayer and Fast for an End to the Iraq War

As Roman Catholics who love the Church, we listened closely to Pope John Paul II who called the 2003 Iraq War “a defeat for humanity” and to Pope Benedict XVI who said, “There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq,” and went on to say, “We should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a just war.”

We remember that, despite the Vatican’s clear opposition to the Iraq War, only one American Bishop, Most Rev. John Michael Botean, condemned it. In a 2003 Lenten Pastoral Letter, Bishop Botean called the Iraq War “objectively grave evil, a matter of mortal sin.”

On March 19, the Iraq War will enter its fifth year. More than 150,000 Iraqi civilians and nearly 4,000 American soldiers have perished. Hundreds of thousands of our sisters and brothers have been injured, orphaned, or left homeless.

We cannot help but wonder if this war could have been prevented with a stronger voice of opposition from all of us in the American Catholic Church. We admit our own complicity by our failure to raise our own voices more forcefully. But, even now, we believe that the voice of our Church can help end the bloodshed.

jagerstatter.jpgTherefore, inspired by the witness of Blessed Franz Jagerstatter, we join concerned Catholics in twelve other dioceses around the United States to call for a Lenten prayer and fast for peace. Like Jagerstatter, the only known Roman Catholic to refuse service in Hitler’s military during World War II, we believe that the Church must not stay “silent in the face of what is happening.” Starting on Ash Wednesday, we invite all people of conscience to join us at Saint Paul’s Cathedral for midday Mass each weekday, followed by a peace vigil outside the church and, shortly thereafter, at the nearby United States Federal Building. We will conclude our prayer and fasting during Holy Week on March 19th with a special Catholic peace witness at the Federal Building.

We hope and pray that this witness in Worcester and other dioceses around the country will draw the Church closer to the nonviolent Christ and help our nation to end the Iraq War and Occupation.