As most of you know, Catholics between the ages of 14 and 59 are required to abstain from meat and meat products (e.g. soups and other foods made with meat flavors) on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all other Fridays during the week. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we’re required to fast by eating no more one full meatless meal or two smaller meals that equal one full meal.
Of course, there are exceptions: if you’re sick, pregnant, or outside the age limits, you’re exempt. What can you do if you’re one of the persons exempt from fasting and/or abstaining from eating meat due to severely restricted diets, food allergies, and other medical reasons? What can one do during Lent instead?
Here are 5 suggestions for you!
1. Provide a meal for someone else
We may not be able to eat certain things at certain times but there are people who can’t eat because they don’t have the resources or help to do so. Whether it’s providing a home cooked meal for someone who is sick, injured, or a new mother or whether you treat someone asking for spare change, you can make a difference. You can take them to a local restaurant, hand out bagged lunches in an area where homeless folks are known to frequent, or purchase a ready-made meal from a grocery store. There’s truly nothing like helping alleviate the hunger that others may feel due to circumstances beyond their control.
2. Abstain from critical and uncharitable words
That argument on social media? That annoyance that triggers a verbal (or mental) snarky comment? That person who cuts you off in traffic? No one is immune from saying things we oftentimes don’t mean. If you notice that there are certain places, situations, or even people that make it easier for you to utter a critical and uncharitable word, you can cut it out of our lives for Lent.
Read more: Quiz: What Should You Give Up For Lent?
Can’t remove yourself as easily but notice a pattern of triggers? For every negative comment that passes your lips or mind, pray a Hail Mary and ask God to help you avoid doing it in the future. If it can be easily fixed (such as sleeping more or making sure you’re not hungry), try to implement a change that will help. Remember what St. John Chrysostom said: “Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism for what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes but bite and devour our brothers?”
3. Add an act of charity to your day
Do you loathe doing something but know that it would help someone else – whether a family member, spouse, friend, or even stranger – if you did it instead? Why not help them by doing it without any prompting or expectation of gratitude.
Whether it be opening a door for someone who has their hands full, giving up your seat on the bus or train to an elderly person or a mother, or something as simple as giving a smile to someone who looks like they’re having a rotten day, you can show God’s love for someone through an act of charity.
4. Embrace silence
Whether it’s music, the TV, the buzzing of a received text message on the cell phone, a white noise app, or even humming, some people try to have background noise on because they cannot stand to be in a quiet environment. Different people have different reasons for their dislike of silence but a lot of good can come from it.
Taking up Lectio Divina and cutting all sources of noise (including ticking clocks) during prayers opens you up to hearing God’s voice more clearly. On a more scientific level, it is said that 2 hours of silence per day helps refresh and restore our brains, making it easier for us to focus while sharpening our minds.
5. Be kinder to yourself
It’s so easy to get down on ourselves if we “fail” at our Lenten goals, especially if we already feel like we’re not doing “Lent right” since we cannot participate like most Catholics can. The beautiful thing about Lent is that it doesn’t call for us to be “perfect” Catholics who don’t occasionally slip up. It’s absolutely normal for us to have to start over again. That’s why we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Lent calls on us to focus on the greatest love story the world has ever known – Jesus Christ willingly dying a painful death for sake of humanity out of his love for us. Don’t feel guilty if you are unable to give up meat or fasting if you have a valid excuse. You are making sure you’re taking care of the body God has blessed you with and there is nothing wrong with that.
Read more: Never too Late to Lent
Whatever thing you abstain from doing this Lenten season, remember the reason for the season. Try to pick something that will help our spiritual life and your relationship with God. Remember that you’re doing the best you can under special circumstance but that it doesn’t make you any less Catholic nor does it have to mean that you can’t experience everything Lent has to offer us.