This evening, Christians of the Eastern traditions who follow the Gregorian calendar begin to observe Great Lent — 40 days of prayer, penance, abstinence and fasting in preparation for the celebration of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.
Christians observing the Byzantine tradition, Catholic and Orthodox, avoided meat not just on Fridays, but for much if not all of Lent. Dairy products, such as milk and cheese and sour cream, are eschewed as well — all forms of denial to help discipline oneself and focus on things spiritual rather than of the flesh.
Great Lent is a time of intense prayer, personal and public, when Christians are called to make sacrifices and give from their want.
But as with all things undertaken by human beings, imperfect as we are, the ideal is rarely accomplished. Years ago, a wise Greek Catholic priest admitted that the observance of Great Lent was “uneven,” except perhaps for the elderly:
“We’re all working on perfection so there’s no expectation that we are perfect,” said Father Ted.
“Part of being a Christian is to keep working on it.”
And so, we are called to keep working on it.
In this time of COVID, in a hurting and broken world exhausted from quarantines, social distancing, partisan rancor and fear, let us enter a time focused on “working on” our own imperfections. Let us ask the Lord to help us understand him more deeply, to seek his forgiveness and merciful love, and to work together in healing our broken world.
Michael J.L. La Civita is CNEWA’s Communications Director.