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To Cheat or Not to Cheat; That Is My Question

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What's this about Lenten sacrifices and Sunday?

Q. So does that mean that when we give something up for Lent, such as candy, we can have it on Sundays?

A. Apart from the prescribed days of fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and the days of abstinence every Friday of Lent, Catholics have traditionally chosen additional penitential practices for the whole Time of Lent. These practices are disciplinary in nature and often more effective if they are continuous, i.e., kept on Sundays as well. That being said, such practices are not regulated by the Church, but by individual conscience.

USCCB Q and A

As we approach the first Sunday of Lent, there is one thought consuming the minds of Catholics more than anything else.

To cheat or not to cheat.

If we have made the bold decision to give up a certain food, hot showers or using swear words for Lent, are we able to spend part of our Sunday standing under hot running water, eating an entire pack of Oreos while reciting the car rental scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles?

Catholics line up on both side of this issue, as we always do when the Church leaves such things up to us.

On one side you have the folks who consider making a sacrifice for just six days of the week to be “wimping out.” They feel that you should maintain your sacrifice for the entirety of Lent if you want it to have full spiritual value.

On the other side, you have the folks who insist upon the fact that Sunday is not a penitential day. They don’t feel that fasting or abstinence have any place on the Lord’s Day and often use Matthew 9:15 as the defense for their position: “How can the guests of the Bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the Bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”

So what’s a Catholic to do?

I would suggest taking a deep breath and relaxing.

As Catholics, we have a tendency to give in to scrupulosity, which leads to a legalistic approach to things the Church hasn’t made legalistic, and in turn, results in unnecessary and unhelpful divisions among the faithful.

If someone wants to continue his Lenten sacrifice on Sundays, more power to him! Pushing on through the entirety of Lent, without giving in, can be heroic indeed.

If someone wants to splurge on Sundays, with a correct understanding of the reasons behind his splurge, more power to him as well! Acknowledging the special place that Sunday holds in the Christian life is a noble way forward.

We can’t allow our preferences to sneak into the catechism of our minds, rather than accepting the allowances made by the actual teachings of the Church. And in holding fast to our preferences, we shouldn’t proclaim them from the rooftops (or the combox) in such an uncharitable way that innocent, well-intentioned people wanting to hear the Gospel get lost in the din.

This Sunday, whether you are sleeping blissfully on the pillow you have sorely been missing, or continuing to toss and turn on the hardwood floor beside your bed, make a firm resolution to resist the urge to give someone else a hard time. Doing so may truly impact the fruitfulness of this penitential season.

 

Tommy Tighe is a Catholic hipster, husband and father. You can follow him on Twitter @theghissilent.

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