I dislike the taste of cottage cheese.

Disguise it in the middle of a perfectly prepared lasagna and I'm all about second helpings. Back in parochial school, when the good nuns extolled the virtue of "giving up" something for the season of Lent, I decided the curdled byproduct of milk was a suitable sacrifice. Just kidding, of course.

The more appropriate response was something like my favorite candy bar or another sweet treat. The point was for me to begin a life-long practice of self-denial as a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus, who fasted to an extent none of us could emulate.

Sometimes my non-Catholic buddies would taunt me with a Lent-sacrificed candy they were devouring. I felt pretty good about resisting the temptation, though I sometimes failed. Human nature is like that, whether you're a kid or an old man.

When I was a kid, Catholics NEVER ate meat on Fridays. Not all of us fully understood why; but we learned to appreciate fish sticks and peanut butter. Now that I am much older and perhaps a bit wiser, I still abstain from meat on most Fridays, even when it isn't Lent.

Fish fries are popular here and across the country during Lent. The sacrifice of meat with a substitute of delicious catfish meets a requirement, but I'm not convinced it is in the spirit of what Lenten sacrifice is all about. The practice stems from the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert in prayer and self-denial. (Luke 4:2).

The opposite of fasting and self-denial pretty much summarizes a world we have all begun to take for granted. We over-indulge in just about everything, simply because it is available, while millions of people world-wide lack the most basic human needs.

What people (and not just Catholics) "give up" during Lent is not always food or other pleasures that are sinful when taken to excess. We are a nation of excess, sometimes marking success with the number of things we accumulate beyond what we need. We revel in how much material goods we have "earned" and pity those who have less. Sometimes that pity takes the form of disdain and ridicule.

So what would be appropriate to "give up" for Lent in keeping with Scriptural guidelines? Chocolate, soda, a bad habit, a long-held grudge ...the possibilities are endless.

Pope Francis recently suggested one that has many residual benefits. The Pope, whether you are Catholic or not, love him or distrust him, offered a Lenten plan that bears noting. Lent, he said, "is a time to give up useless words, gossip, rumors, tittle-tattle and speak to God on a first name basis.”

Of our Internet-saturated world, he said, “We live in an atmosphere polluted by too much verbal violence, too many offensive and harmful words, which are amplified by the Internet. Today, people insult each other as if they were saying, ‘Good day.’” In short, give up trolling for Lent.

Regardless of our political or religious persuasion, it's hard to deny the veracity of that and the need to extend that idea beyond Easter. I'm going to eat a lot of fish during Lent, but not follow it with a soft drink chaser. Most of all, I'm committed to adjusting my life in Lent and beyond to being kind. If you don't cotton to that idea, or me, that's OK. It's my plan.


Mr. Clinton retired as executive editor of The Messenger in 2011. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Lone Oak.

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