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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, March 9, 2018
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Come To Think Of It
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

What about Lent?


According to the Catholic church, every person 14 years or older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent. Furthermore, every person between the age of 18 and 59 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

For someone who likes to eat seafood, abstaining from meat during the Fridays of Lent is no sacrifice because fish, squid, shrimp, shellfish and crustaceans are mostly yummy dishes that should be considered as luxuries due to their price, especially when compared to the more common meats: pork and chicken.

For those who are on a limited budget but would like to comply, the fish limitation can be a challenge because fish and seafood dishes in most restaurants and fast food joints are more expensive. Of course, there are carinderias and eateries that offer cheap fried fish, but on a general note, fish is still more expensive for those who are not eating at home because most value meals are meat-based. This means that those who are committed to abstaining from meat during Fridays but are on a tight budget will have to either find an eatery with a cheap fish dish or pack their own fish-based lunch boxes.

Fasting and abstinence is supposed to be our way of performing penance for our sins. In the olden days, meat was considered a luxury and seafood would probably be for the poor so it made sense to shun meat as a personal sacrifice. However times have changed and seafood is now as luxurious as meat but the rules for abstinence remain the same. What happens now is people get to comply with the abstinence requirement by having fancy seafood meals which means they follow the letter of the rules but it is actually not in tune with the spirit of the rule.

People like me who enjoy simple seafood meals cannot consider abstinence a sacrifice. In my case I would thoroughly enjoy grilled tuloy, any pinamalhan, even canned sardines (which I eat only during Lent) more than a fast food fried chicken meal. In fact, if given a choice, I’d consider the fried chicken more of a sacrifice than any of those simple seafood dishes.

The only meal I can remember that can be considered truly abstinence-worthy was when I ordered a tuna fettucini at a popular local restaurant last Friday. I accidentally managed to fully comply with the spirit of Lent when they served me one of the worst tuna fettucini’s in my recent memory. Eating that sorry excuse for pasta was a genuine sacrifice.

It is probably high time for church officials to rethink the rules of abstinence if we really want to make Lenten sacrifices more meaningful. Right now abstinence only works for people who do not like seafood. Why don’t we hit them where it really hurts and challenge the younger generation to sacrifice social media or the internet for a couple of hours every Friday of Lent instead?

I don’t know if it’s just me but it feels like the Lenten season has been losing its meaning and value. When Ash Wednesday went head to head with Valentine’s Day this year, I don’t think the former won. Catholics may have lined up for the imposition of ashes but most of them probably did not abstain nor fast on that day. When Holy Week comes, most young people will be out of town, taking advantage of the long holiday, promo fares, and summer sun. Fasting, abstinence and prayer will be secondary to vacation plans. The semi-faithful will at the very best try to insert those rituals into their vacation schedules and itineraries.

Unlike Christmas, Valentines, Halloween, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparent’s Day; there’s no money to be made from Lent so those who celebrate it must exert more effort to keep it on top of mind. It is easy to forget about abstinence Fridays because malls and restaurants would try to offer Lent-friendly options, they wouldn’t go out of their way to remind their Catholic customers not to eat meat.

I don’t know how church and religious leaders can make Lent relevant again. Do we change the terms of abstinence? Can a Lenten app or fitness tracker challenge help encourage sacrifices the way some diets do? Can Catholic schools and pious parents to try harder to encourage an awareness of the need for abstinence, fasting, sacrifice and prayer in these days when everything is about likes, shares, and comments?

If you come to think of it, Lent is more than just fasting and abstinence. But if today’s generation is already struggling with its most simple requirements, Lent is already in trouble. Those who want to keep the tradition will have to do something about it before it’s too late. Perhaps an update will help?*


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