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The Great Debate

Dear Parish Family,

The time has come for us to discuss the controversy that is rocking the church to its core and drawing Catholics into warring factions. I’m talking about the debate over whether or not someone who gave something up for Lent is allowed to indulge in that thing on Sundays.

Here’s an example of how the controversy starts. One Lent I was picking a place to go to dinner with a friend and he suggested a certain microbrewery because he heard they had great beers. I told him that I’d need to take a raincheck because I gave up alcohol for Lent. And he said: “It’s Sunday. No problem. You can have it on Sunday.”

“Wait just a minute!” you may be thinking. If you’ve never heard this reasoning, you may be

surprised that many people follow it. Sunday is the day that Jesus rose from the dead so, in a

sense, every Sunday is a “Little Easter” – even if it falls in Lent.

This custom never reached the Catholics in my hometown. So when people like me hear this, we feel a combination of doubt, superiority and outrage. My seminary (the graduate school where priests are trained) was divided between those who believed a Lenten fast couldn’t be broken until Easter and those who took a break each week on “Little Easter.”

I once debated this with a brother seminarian and said, “But Jesus fasted for 40 days… that’s

why we have to fast for all of Lent, so we too can make a 40-day commitment.” I thought my

argument was indisputable. But he was unmoved: “Haven’t you ever counted the days from

Ash Wednesday to Easter? It’s not 40. It’s 46… so that you have extra days in Lent to take the

six Sundays off.” ...Hmmmm.

This is a great example of a religious practice that has a number of variations that depend on where you were raised and how your parents were trained. People debate vigorously about this issue not because it’s so important, but because they can’t imagine that the way they learned it could possibly done a different way.

This is a tiny example, but since it really does get under some people’s skin in a mild way, it

helps us to better understand why the Shia and Sunnis in the Middle East are at odds… why

Northern Ireland has suffered violence between Protestants and Catholics… and why it’s

pointless to enter a debate with a religious fundamentalist.

How were you raised to observe Lent? How do you feel about the “other” way people observe it? How might this be another way that God is opening you up?

Happy Lent,

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