Lent is more than distinguishing between fish or fowl

aymond    What is your personal perspective on the Lenten season?
    These 40 days allow us to reflect on Jesus’ 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert in preparation for his public ministry, which led to his death and resurrection. As we move toward the death and resurrection of Jesus, we embrace these 40 days of Lent in order to pray, fast and do works of charity so that we can worthily celebrate Holy Week. We also use this time to hear his call to conversion in our lives.
    What can we change?
    A lot of times we say that change is good, but it’s good except when it affects me! God calls us during these 40 days to identify an action or attitude in our lives that needs to be changed or converted. Hopefully, each of us will hear that call. God doesn’t call us to conversion in a hostile way but in a compassionate way, reminding us that we are deeply loved by him. He wants the best for us. As he looks at our lives, he wants us to see ourselves as he sees us. He sees our goodness and he also sees our frailty, sin, failure and weakness. He’s calling us to identify not just the action that might need to change but also the attitude that needs changing. What is it in my heart that needs to change in order for me to live a more loving life with him and with others?
    What are the church’s requirements during Lent?
    The church gives us a minimum of what we are to do – that is, to abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent, and to both fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. But we must do more! Quite frankly, as we know, it’s no great sacrifice in the Archdiocese of New Orleans to abstain from meat on Fridays. In fact, most of us eat seafood all week. But I’ve been amazed at the number of inquiries and calls I’ve gotten such as, “Does this count for meat? Does alligator count for meat? Does turtle count for meat? Do birds count for meat?” We can split hairs all we want, but by doing that, I think we’re missing the reality that penance is supposed to stretch us. Penance is never convenient. We embrace prayer, fasting and works of charity not because they are convenient, but because they force us to think and act in a different way. I’ve also received requests from people to be exempt from abstinence on certain Fridays of Lent. My response has been, if you receive this exemption, you have to transfer that discipline to another day. We can’t just excuse ourselves from penance. In the Gospel, Jesus says some things can be dealt with only by prayer and fasting. So, we can keep splitting the letter of the law, but it’s the spirit of the law that truly counts. As I stand before God this Lent, can I say that I am denying myself something or doing something extra that will expand my heart and my spirit to become more loving to God and to others and lead to a change in attitude? This sacrifice, combined with prayer, brings conversion.
    What was Lent like for you as a child?
    When I was a kid, I gave up candy and I was pretty faithful to that. Since I’ve started choosing a penance that relates to directly to that area of my life that I want to change, it has been more difficult to be faithful to that every day of Lent. For example, it may be very difficult to be more loving to others or to stop judging others or be more patient with those who bring out the worst in me. It may be hard to put down the cell phone and actually listen to a person and be present to that person. It may be hard to spend more time with family. But those are the things that really can change our hearts. So, when we do those things, we may not be able to come to Easter and say, “Oh, I’ve completely lived this out faithfully.” But we can come to Easter and say, “I have grown this Lent. My heart is bigger than it was on Ash Wednesday, and I have changed an action or attitude that has brought me closer to God and to others.”
    If people are really truthful with themselves, is it difficult for them to find that weakness they need to change?
    I don’t think so. We can use this image. Let God hold up a mirror and then, with him, look at yourself. Jesus is gentle and compassionate. I think Jesus is more than eager to tell us how we can undergo conversion. Each of us knows something in our lives that needs to change in order for us to be a more loving person. One of the things I know that is more prevalent today – which needs to be changed – is our use of the Internet. I’m talking about the amount of time we spend on the Internet, the time we spend on our cell phones and the sites we visit that are not going to help us to grow spiritually. These are examples of areas of life that need prayer and attention in our modern day.
    Final question: Does alligator really count?
    Alligator is a fish. It’s not meat. A lot’s been made of the letter I sent to an alligator farmer a few years ago reassuring him that alligator is acceptable to eat during Lent. Don’t forget – conversion of heart is truly what God is calling us to during these 40 days. We need to embrace that call in our lives.
    Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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