Skip to content

Feast or Famine: finding the middle way

By the time we end our Cravings journey in a few weeks, Lent will be a few days away. Hard to believe, isn’t it? And yet, it seems so perfectly timed for this tribe. We can take what we’ve been talking about here and kick it up a notch, if we so choose. But we can also allow some Lenten wisdom to inform the journey right now, especially as we delve into Chapter 5: Feast or Famine.  Read more

My CRS Rice Bowl has arrived! Lent now feels official.

Every year our family looks forward to participating in the CRS Rice Bowl program, but for the past couple of years our local parish hasn’t made the cardboard bowls and accompanying calendar available to parishioners. So I have to get creative to get my Rice Bowl. One year I called CRS directly and had some shipped to our home in record time. This year I found a friend (Thanks, Theresa!) in a nearby parish and had her bring some Rice Bowls across county lines. Contraband Rice Bowls. That’s how we roll at the Poust House. Read more

Fasting: A Lenten primer

This story originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor in 2010, which amazes me because it was years before I had even thought about writing Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image, and God and yet I can hear the spark of that book within this story. But I digress. Perhaps you’d like to enjoy this post with a greasy burger or a big piece of chocolate cake while you still can.

By Mary DeTurris Poust

Fasting and abstinence were once staples of Catholic life. There was a time not so long ago when you could spot Catholics in a restaurant simply by looking at what was on their plates on a Wednesday or Friday. But, with changes in Church rules and individual mindsets, fasting slowly began to fall out of fashion. Today, in popular Catholic culture at least, fasting is often considered a quaint practice of days gone by, something that pales in comparison to doing charitable works. Read more

Foodie Friday: A Lenten primer on fasting

Lent is just around the corner. That means our Friday meal posts will go from vegetarian to vegan. (Since I already don’t eat meat, I need to find a different way to up the ante on Fridays of Lent.) But, as we head into this beautiful season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, I thought I’d kick us off not with a recipe but with a post on fasting. Read more

You’ve got…ashes. Archbishop Dolan talks about Lent on AOL

If you click on the AOL homepage today, you’ll find Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York giving web visitors a great explanation of what this season of Lent is all about. He calls it a 40-day “spring training” that gets Catholics ready for the high holy days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter. And he puts it into the context of other great religions. It’s worth checking out this short video.

Ash Wednesday: The start of something beautiful

I am going to admit right up front that I am a huge fan of Lent, always have been. It’s my kind of season. Perhaps that makes me weird, but it’s true. For me Ash Wednesday is a new beginning and Lent a time of possibilities.

From the moment the ashes are smeared on my forehead — “Remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return” — I feel renewed. Does that sound odd considering the penitential nature of this season? For me it makes perfect sense. I like the idea of focusing on where I’ve fallen down, where I could do better, where I need to strip away the unnecessary stuff to get to the heart of the matter: God.

Sure, my fasting often involves giving up sweets — which doesn’t seem all that significant to some — but it’s about so much more than that. It’s about changing habits, removing obstacles, getting down to our spiritual core in hopes of changing our lives for the better not for 40 days but forever.

I know that’s putting an awful lot of pressure on Lent — and myself — to perform, and maybe that’s why I often struggle with my Lenten promises (see my previous post, “Lowering My Lenten Expectations” HERE), but I really believe each and every time Lent rolls around that this year can be different. And one of these years I’m going to be right. I also firmly believe that even if I don’t make monumental changes in my life over the course of the 40 days, I probably do make minor changes that go unnoticed but strengthen my faith life in subtle ways.

So…I start today. I am filled with high hopes for the journey we have just begun, hope that by Lent’s end I might find myself at least a few steps closer to God. But I’m going to need all the support I can get, so I’m looking around for resources and hoping to share them with you along the way.

For starters, here are some places you might like to look:

— Busted Halo has a high-tech Lenten calendar posted HERE. You can click on each day as it arrives (no clicking ahead allowed) for suggested practices related to fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Today, in addition to reminding us to fast and abstain from meat, the calendar suggests giving some time to someone you know who is lonely. An added bonus of using the Fast Pray Give calendar at Busted Halo? You’ll have a chance to enter a contest to win an iPad, in addition to smaller prizes, like today’s “The Spirituality of Fasting” by Msgr. Charles Murphy. Great book, by the way.

Catholic Relief Services has an email service connected to its Operation Rice Bowl project, with reflections to help us remember those who have less and to focus our own Lenten fasting on something bigger than ourselves. If you’re not doing Operation Rice Bowl this year, try to pick up a bowl and calendar at your parish and join in.

— Mike Hayes over at Googling God is hosting a 50-Day Give Away. A few days before Lent, he started giving away one of his possessions every day. I had hoped to join him in this inspiring endeavor, but, as I told him, I realized that my effort would have had to be the 40-Day THROW Away because no one would want the stuff I need to shed from my life. Still, I plan to follow his lead, at least in part, and find some things I can strip out of my life and offer to someone else. You’ve been warned.

— Of course, you can follow my other blog posts over at OSV Daily Take, where today I’m taking a survey on whether people include Sundays in their Lenten fast. Head over there and voice your opinion on this critical issue. (For the record, I don’t count Sundays in my Lenten fast, although I try not to overdo it on the stuff I gave up.)

— Finally, I’ll be reading daily reflections in my Magnificat Lenten Companion 2011, which is sold out online, I believe, but may still be available at your local Catholic bookstore.

I had actually considered giving up some element of Facebook use as part of my Lenten fast. I couldn’t give it up completely because it is part of my job to be there (and here). But, as I reflected on that possibility, I realized something big: Facebook has become a really important part of my spiritual life. Does that sound crazy? It’s true. I am blessed to be FB friends with so many wonderful people, so many wonderful writers, and they continually amaze me with their own blog posts and the links they provide to other powerful spiritual writers. As some of those posts and links come up, I’ll share them here.

Today, for example Brother Dan Horan, O.F.M., over at Dating God has a wonderful Ash Wednesday post, courtesy of Thomas Merton. Check that out HERE.

And Elizabeth Scalia has a great post full of Lenten links over at The Anchoress on Patheos. She also posted her Ash Wednesday “homily” at the Catholic portal of Patheos. She had me at “Moonstruck.” Go HERE and you’ll see what I mean.

Much more to come in the days ahead. Enter the desert joyfully. Wear your ashes full of hope. It is a new day, a new season, a time of new possibilities.

Lowering my Lenten expectations

Lent is one of those seasons that always begins with the best of intentions and rapidly goes downhill, at least that’s how it usually plays out for me.

I plan to pray more and eat less and find creative ways to make my favorite time in the Church year meaningful for my children. Unfortunately, the ashes hardly have time to settle into the wrinkles on my forehead before I’m feeling like I’ve already failed.

I think maybe part of the reason is because I tend to set my sights too high, forgetting that, like a baby learning to walk, I’m going to have to take a lot of wobbly first steps before I can run full steam ahead. Lent is a time to put one foot in front of the other as I hesitatingly toddle toward the rich spiritual experiences I know are waiting to be had.

I guess I need to think about Lent the way I tell Noah to think about piano: You don’t get to be an expert by simply sitting close to the lesson books. You have to work at it a little every day in order to see true progress. And so it is with God. We can read books about God, even write books about God, but until we put everything away and spend regular quiet time with God, we’re going to have a hard time getting out of the starting gate.

Somehow that concept seems a lot easier to understand when I’m explaining it to my children. As they face their own Lenten challenges, I remind them that if they fail one day, they can just get up, dust themselves off, and start over. I remind them that Lenten sacrifices and promises are not about making us feel bad but about clearing out a space in our lives where God can squeeze in. Big rewards can often spring from small actions.

I remember going to a birthday lunch with some friends during Lent a few of years ago. When it came time for dessert, I quietly ignored the chocolate cake sitting in front of me, hoping that no one would notice. Someone asked me if I wasn’t eating the cake because it was Lent, never mind that half the women present were skipping dessert because of various diets. My friend went on to say how silly it is to give up insignificant things like sweets for Lent when there are so many important things I could be doing to make a difference in the world.

Point taken, even if it was through gritted but smiling teeth. And yet, as I mentioned to my lunch companion that day, while we are called to pray and help the poor during Lent, we are also most assuredly called to fast and sacrifice. That is not some antiquated notion without meaning in our modern lives. Giving up a daily bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream or a nightly glass of wine might not seem like much of a sacrifice on the surface, but if those small actions inspire us to contemplate Jesus’ own sacrifice for even one moment, if they make us empathize with those who have less than us, then what may appear silly to others is in reality spiritually significant to us.

As I contemplate what I’ll do for Lent this year, my promise is simple: Make the sacrifices and the actions meaningful even if they are not monumental. And if, as in year’s past, we get to the end of Lent and realize there are only a few lonely quarters clanking around in our Rice Bowl because we forgot to make regular donations throughout the 40 days, we’ll write a last-minute check to make up the difference and bring it with us to church on Holy Thursday, taking one more wobbly baby step in the right direction.