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February 28, 2006

Mardi Gras and Carnival

Of the two "celebrations" that precede Ash Wednesday, I prefer the name "Carnival." Carnival derives from either medieval Italian or Latin and means "to take away meat." Folk etymology (and the etymology I worked out for it) makes it come down to "Farewell, Flesh!" It is this second meaning that I think gives us our best starting point for Lenten reflection. Yes, we have meatless Fridays--and of course during Medieval times, the abstinence was more pronounced because every Friday was meatless anyway. I don't know the particulars of the Lenten regulations during medieval times, but I do know that they were far more stringent than they are today. (People had much less to start with, thus to make a fast meaningful, to make it a deprivation, one would have to restrict far more.) But I am once again off my main point.

The folk etymology is rewarding food for thought because "Farewell, Flesh" is, in fact, something we are trying to achieve within the context of Lent. That is, we are attempting to move closer to God and hence away from the fleshly attraction that keep us far from Him. To do so we practice the disciplines of Lent as prescribed by the Church and our spiritual directors through the Holy Spirit. Lacking a spiritual director, we go directly to the Holy Spirit (although even with a director, it is hoped that prayer is directing all Lenten practices). St. Thérèse of Lisieux advised us that our daily trials and tribulations were mortifications enough--that we needed to add nothing to the mix to become aware of God. That's one of the miracles of "The Little Way." Nothing extraordinary is required. The Little Way is simple but it is not easy and the practices of Lent help us to sharpen our eyes to perceive the actions of God in our every day lives.

And THAT is the real purpose of mortification of the flesh--to put off enough of ourselves that we can begin to put of Jesus Christ. The Lenten Regulations are not in place merely to mark a season; they are positive helps on the way to holiness--gentle suggestions for things we can do that will improve our orientation and disposition toward God.

As you ponder your Lenten "resolutions" this last day before the great day of Ash Wednesday, always keep in clear focus precisely why you are doing anything at all. Obedience is good, but desire for God is even better. Let this Lent be the beginning of an ever-deepening relationship with the Lord. Hold the course and do those things that bring you in touch with Him--clear away all obstacles, and walk forward boldly in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The Lord will aid you mightily if your intent is to see Him.

Posted by Steven Riddle at February 28, 2006 9:39 AM

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LOVE it!

Posted by: Essy at February 28, 2006 1:05 PM

medieval restrictions were basically what the Eastern Church still does - no meat, milk, eggs, or anything made with them. Fish, vegetables and fruits (any that you could find in late winter!), grains, legumes. Nuts and seeds (almond milk was a staple for the wealthy). Also, many of the foods that are now eaten all over the world originated in the New World and so were not available in medieval times - potatoes, corn, tomatoes, peppers, many squashes.......

Posted by: alicia at February 28, 2006 9:17 PM

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