The Lent incentive

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The arrival of Lent means that many of us have been considering giving something up. This could encompass anything from chocolate to our favourite TV programme, or even Facebook. Why do we all do this? Where did it all start? And is there actually a point to it?

Catholics fast during Lent, and have done so since the early Church. By the law of the Catholic Church, this means that they can only have one full meal a day, sometimes with two additional snacks called ‘collations’ if necessary. In addition to this, Catholics partake in a weekly abstinence from meat every Friday throughout the year, as reintroduced in September 2011. The purpose of fasting and abstinence is to allow Catholics to repent for their sins and in doing so, learn to be self-disciplined, remain spiritual and represent Christ’s fasting for forty days in the desert.

Nowadays, the concept behind fasting at Lent does not only extend to food. Modern interpretations imply that Lent is a time to give up something that we rely on for enjoyment, or something excessive that may cause sinful behaviour. It seems the concept of eliminating certain things has remained, but the reasons why we do this have somewhat changed. It could be argued that Lent is an ideal opportunity to improve ourselves in some way. Perhaps Lent is a chance to finally stop wasting all our time watching TV, or give up using Facebook so that we might actually get some studying done. Learning to abstain from such things  could perhaps prove beneficial to our lives. We may be able to become healthier or happier by reaping the benefits of a more healthy and productive lifestyle.

Could you give up chocolate for forty days? Image by peter pearson

Having said this, it seems that everyone usually reverts back to their old habits after Lent, so why do it in the first place? Catholics give up food to represent Christ’s suffering in the desert for forty days before his death. Does giving up using your mobile, for example, achieve an accurate representation of this? Unless you are going to give something up completely in order to improve yourself or your life, why do it for such a short period of time?

Also, why must we feel guilty for enjoying things? Why should we have to give anything up? All it will make us feel is unhappy and tortured as we long even more for what we cannot have. If you feel you want to give something up, perhaps you could give up a small amount of it rather than completely eradicating it from your lives? No one ever sticks to the plans anyway, so why put yourself through the hassle? Who is to say that enjoying anything is sinful? Pleasure leads to a more fulfilled, satisfying life and potentially, a more rewarding one that boosts your happiness and self-esteem.

Furthermore, fasting is a part of the Catholic faith that allows Catholics to spiritually enrich themselves. Using Lent as a time to give up novelties arguably undermines the reasons why Catholics fast. Whereas they practice self-discipline by giving up food, others patronise this concept by giving up something that is not that important to them, only to revert back to it, and for what? Do we have a reason as important as Catholics do?

By all means, anyone can give anything up if they want to, but why wait until Lent to do it? Why not start today, and instead of using Lent as an incentive, why don’t you exhibit some willpower and prove to yourself that you have the mental strength to accomplish this? It will prove far more rewarding than if you just give it up for a few weeks because of Lent.

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