Lenten Special: Meatloaf (sign outside a Perkins Restaurant)
That sign is forever burned into my memory. Many years ago (in 1989), I was driving to Valparaiso. As I approached a shopping center area, I saw the local Perkins restaurant ahead of me. Their sign boldly proclaimed: “Lenten Special: Meatloaf”. I almost wrecked my car because I was laughing too hard to drive.
It was quite obvious that the manager had no clear knowledge about the demands of Lent upon the Catholic Community. To advertise meatloaf on a Friday of Lent most definitely proved my point.
That sign has given me opportunity over and over again throughout the years to consider our practices — both at Lent as well as at other times of the year — and how they are viewed and understood by others.
As with anything else, you have to be “an insider” to understand the humor behind the situation. If a person is not one of us, they would merely look at the sign, determine whether or not they liked meatloaf, and go in for a bargain.
Lent is not about bargains, it is about sacrifice. Lent is not about highlighting ourselves, it is about spotlighting our sins so that we can work on getting rid of them. Lent is not about our own wants and needs, it is about helping others.
If we are to help others, we need to help them understand who we are and what we do. We know that many are confused about Lent by the gazes that the faithful get on Ash Wednesday as they go into their world with ashes on their foreheads. Some people look at us and think, “Ah, it’s Ash Wednesday and they must have gone to church.” Others look at us and think, “I wonder if they know they have a smudge on their forehead.”
For our own part, we often become confused by what we do and why we do it. Some Catholics get so hung up on the regulations of the season that they forget all about the penitential nature of the season. They wonder if Sundays are a part of Lent, if they have to give up meat if St. Patrick’s falls on a Friday, if they can substitute one penance for another if they find themselves struggling too much, and the like.
All of the disciplines that we embrace at the beginning of Lent are done so that we might draw ourselves closer to God. If we find that something is getting in the way of our spiritual journey, we might need to do something else instead. At that point in time, it is not a law of the season that dictates to us what we should or should not do, it is our conscience.
If our conscience determines that something we have decided to do is impeding our growth in the Lord, it suggests that we do something else instead. What have we heard from the very beginning of our Christian formation? Follow our conscience.
Do not let Lenten practices confuse you or those around you. Instead, use the practices of Lent to draw closer to God. Use what works best for you, not for others. That way, you will be an inspiration to others who are also striving to perfect themselves.
FAITH ACTION: Look closely at your Lenten resolutions and try to determine if any of them lend confusion to others around you. If they do, try to explain what it is you do and why you do it.