Just a few short years ago, this was a day of significance for me. Now, it almost sneaks up on me.
At age 12, I committed to reading the Bible on this day, foolishly thinking I could read an entire book of the Old Testament every day of Lent. It took 6 months, not 40 days, to complete that Lenten penance.
For as long as I can remember until about 2010, I have avoided eating meat on this day, as on every Friday.
I spent most of my life fasting on this day, avoiding snacks and eating smaller meals.
I went to Mass to be marked and reminded that I am dust and will return to dust.
I picked something to give up or committed to extra prayers or spiritual reading. Some years, I tried to do both.
I focused on the sins I had committed throughout the previous year and repented for them in preparation for confession.
In short, I began a 40 day journey of torturing myself for being born human and therefore with sin. Not that I never did that the rest of the year, but it was a special focus during the season of Lent.
Today, I look back on the me that was and wish I could have broken out of that monstrous cycle much younger. This day no longer holds a significance for me, except perhaps a negative one, as I purposefully disregard the foolish rituals of my former beliefs to cope with how much energy I wasted practicing them.
I packed a corned beef sandwich for lunch today, and am quite glad it didn’t have to be peanut butter (although both are good, of course).
I won’t be spending time in an uncomfortable pew on my knees, or repenting for having emotions.
I refuse to do penance to a deity I cannot believe in for acts I can no longer see as wrong. If I have hurt someone, done something to cause suffering, I want to repent to the wounded party, not a being who is clearly more willing to throw me into eternal fire than to provide even the smallest bit of evidence for his existence.
P.S. I am not trying to imply that eating meat is necessarily good, but I think I have. If you avoid meat so as not to cause animal suffering, more power to you. I think that is the moral ideal, although I’m not a vegetarian. What I am against is avoiding meat specifically to make yourself suffer or to share in some fake mystical union.