Giving a new-age meaning to abstinence during Lent

Mar 25, 2014, 08:08 IST | Maleeva Rebello

The 40-day period, which ends on April 20, gets a contemporary twist with people giving up novel things and giving a new-age meaning to abstinence

This Lent, from biking, to social media, TV serials and shopping, the list of things people have chosen to give up are novel, deviating from the more common ones like going vegetarian and staying away from alcohol.

St. Joseph The worker church, Mumbra. Pic/Sameer Markande
St. Joseph The worker church, Mumbra. Pic/Sameer Markande

Carbon fasting
Moving with the times, the Roman Catholic Church in Mumbai has encouraged the faithful to reduce their carbon footprint by following 40 ways of saving the Earth this Lent. Through the Archdiocese of Bombay app available for android phones and the carbon fasting booklet, this concept is being encouraged in the city.

Allan Selvan Arlene Mathiah
Allan Selvan and Arlene Mathiah

Fr. Ronald Sequeira who is at St. Joseph’s Church, Umerkhadi said, “The nature group of the Catholic Church in Mumbai is encouraging these special ways of making Lenten sacrifices by contributing to saving the planet, through Carbon Fasting.”

Raul Khan. Pic/Shadab Khan Fr. Ronald Sequeira. Pic/Atul Kamble
Raul Khan. Pic/Shadab Khan and Fr. Ronald Sequeira. Pic/Atul Kamble

Canon Law
It is interesting to note that the Bible never mentions anything about Lent. Fr. Ternan Monteiro, sheds light on the practice of abstinence, which is a self-imposed restraint from various pleasure activities. “Canon Law mentions a sacrificial fasting from meat during Lent, the type of meat is not mentioned but it was decided that it would be red meat.

Desiree Pesso. Pic/Prashant Waydande Victor Rodrigues. Pic/Satyajit Desai
Desiree Pesso. Pic/Prashant Waydande and Victor Rodrigues. Pic/Satyajit Desai

People during the 40 days of Lent give up things that they are addicted to, in a sense, they are things that the person cannot do without. Lent is a time when people do more than they do during the year, take their love for God to the next level through a personal sacrifice as they want to do something for God,” said Fr. Ternan.

Fr. Ternan Monteiro. Pic/Sameer Markande
Fr. Ternan Monteiro. Pic/Sameer Markande

Lent then...
Explaining the Lent practice during the 1960s and ‘70s in India, Fr. Ronald said, “People between the ages of 18 and 59 were encouraged to skip one whole meal during Lent.

Families as a unit, ate only vegetarian food on all the Fridays of Lent which included the children and elderly. In the past few years the church has become very liberal; it has given full freedom to people to decide if they wish to fast or not.”

For Raul Khan (12), this Lent his sacrifice is his favourite video game. The standard VII student said, “I love playing Subway Surfers on my Tablet and spend many hours playing the game. But this Lent, I have given that up. The Tab is in my dad’s cupboard so that I am not tempted.

It is difficult and I feel a crazy urge to play the game sometimes, but I think I am learning a lot from this sacrifice, I am proud that I have successfully been able to stay away from playing the game.” It is no breakfast, bikes or beef, or all non-vegetarian food to be precise, for Allan Selvan, 21, who has decided to give up all three for Lent.

The engineering student said, “Riding my motorbike is something I absolutely love. It has been difficult as many of my friends keep telling me that I can ride their bike, but I have made a firm resolve. Even my watchman was shocked that I haven’t touched my bike for more than 15 days.

This experience of giving up something I love is surely going to help my willpower. I eat something only after 12 noon, so giving up breakfast is a small way of denying myself for the sake of personal sacrifice.”
Sacrifice for Desiree Pesso, 23, means giving up social media. Pesso said, “I love chatting with my friends on G-chat and spend many hours doing that every day. This Lent, I decided to devote the time to the Lord.

I talk to my friends on the phone but the time that I used to spend chatting is when I now talk to Jesus. I won’t say that I’ve become a saint, but I’m doing my bit this Lent. I also am doing a bit of carbon fasting by not wasting food and saving electricity, by reducing bulbs in my house besides switching off lights when not required.”

With social media, bike riding and video games on the ‘no’ list, add television serials to that. Rossetta Pereira, who has given up watching her favourite television serial this Lent said, “I was quite addicted to Saath Nibhana Saathiya, a serial on TV. I always rushed from work to be home by 7 pm to watch the serial. But this Lent, I’ve decided to give up this addiction. I felt odd for the first few days, but now I am used to it.

I’m actually now unsure if post-Easter I’d want to watch the serial. I barely miss it and have now realised that it was an addiction. My life has become richer as I can spend more time talking to my family and friends as opposed to sitting in front of the TV. I have started walking short distances this Lent as part of carbon fasting and I must say it also keeps me fit.”

Life is more meaningful too for Arlene Mathiah, 24, an advertising professional who has given up shopping, partying in addition to non-vegetarian food, chocolates and alcohol. She said, “For 365 days of the year I do all these things, and now a little sacrifice is helping me grow and making my life more meaningful.

My friends keep asking me why I’m making such a big sacrifice, but the truth be told I am happy. Giving up chocolates which I love and shopping, another passion that I have, has been tough; but not impossible. From within I have this deep sense of pride. I’m also saving a lot of money which I plan to put to good use this Easter.”

No drinks, please
Tara Bhatnagar, has decided to give up drinking alcohol at parties and get togethers, this Lent. She said, “Every year, I start Lent by giving up two things but I end up being unable to keep up to the two but am successful at least in abstaining from one. This year, I had decided to give up chocolates and alcohol but I couldn’t stay away from chocolate, so I have broken that abstinence vow.

But I have still stayed away from alcohol and plan to stay away till Easter. I am doing this to see the amount of self control, I have.” Pondering on abstinence, Fr. Ternan said, “Success in staying away from things they love besides providing a spiritual inner healing and strengthening will power also helps people prepare for the future.”

Spiritual sacrifice
Talking about spirituality brings one to Victor Rodrigues who said, “I do more of a spiritual exercise. I read three chapters per day from the Old Testament books of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The readings at mass during Lent, are also mostly taken from these books. More than a physical hunger, for me it is a spiritual one. In 40 days I finish reading these books that have 66 and 52 chapters respectively.

My mind and soul are refreshed preparing me internally for Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus.” Fr. Ronald concludes, “More than grumbling about vegetarian food cooked at home and making a forced sacrifice, it is better that people make a decision of what they want to abstain from and do that from their heart.”

Fr. Ternan ends saying, “Often, people hardly change their attitude but put on a show of sacrifice. Jesus wants us to be better people post-Lent rather than give up things externally for a time period. The entire purpose of Lent is to make us come closer to God and to be better people, when Easter comes.”

All about Lent
Fasting and Abstinence during Lent: Fasting is to stay away from food and is encouraged on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the two days the Catholic Church recommends fasting on. Those who are above 18 years and those under 59 years are encouraged to fast. Abstinence means to abstain or stay away from something.

Meat is proscribed as are alcohol and cigarettes. But it is left open to people to choose other things that they wish to abstain from during the 40 days of Lent. There is no age mentioned for this practice and whoever wants to follow abstinence is free to do so.

What is Lent?
A period of preparation for the festival of Easter, Lent is a 40 day period that commences on Ash Wednesday, which could fall as early as February 4 and as late as March 10.

By marking their foreheads with ashes that are obtained by burning the palm leaves of the previous year’s Palm Sunday, Christians all around the world commence Lent.

Observed by the Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Roman Catholic segments of Christianity, Lent is observed by penance, prayer, fasting and charity. Lent is derived from an Old English word which means spring during which the days are lengthened.

Why 40 days?
The number is significant in Christian scripture as in Genesis, it took 40 days and nights of rain to cause a flood which destroyed the earth; the Hebrews spent 40 years in the wilderness before reaching the Promised Land; Moses fasted for 40 days before receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai; Jesus spent 40 days of fasting in preparation for his ministry.

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