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.”