The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 25, 2000 Issue
Renew 2000

Don't give up chocolate this Lent

Chocolate may hold a secret to understanding the heart of grace

By Tom Rinkoski

You may want to grab a bar of chocolate or make a cup of cocoa before reading this. After living with a confessed chocoholic for 23 years, (who has, by the way, passed this on to our children), I'm getting the feeling that there just might be something special about chocolate.

Why do lovers send a chocolate heart for Valentine's Day, instead of, say vanilla cookies or strings of licorice? Christopher Columbus, on his fourth journey to the Americas, noticed the natives' attachment to the substance after he confiscated a canoe load of cacao beans, which he mistook for almonds: "They seemed to hold these almonds at a great price, for when they were brought on board ship together with their goods, I observed that when any of these almonds feel they all stooped to pick them up, as if an eye had fallen."

I have noticed my team mate here in the Family Life Department reacts the same way when a few M& M's escape the office dispenser. Cortez commented that chocolate was "a drink that builds up resistance and fights fatigue." If this be true, and chocolate is the alpha food providing anti-depressant and aphrodisiac qualities, why abstain from it during Lent? We may be doing ourselves a disservice.

The Sept. 21 issue of The Lancet, a British medical journal, indicates that chocolate may be the way to a person's heart in more ways than ever dreamed. Researchers at the University of California at Davis, have found that chocolate carries high levels of phenolics. These chemicals are thought to help lower the risk of coronary heart disease by preventing fatlike substances in the blood from "oxidizing" and causing plaque, a fatty buildup that clogs the arteries. Clogged arteries are major causes of often-fatal heart attacks. They found that a 1.5 ounce piece of milk chocolate contained nearly the same amount of phenolics as a 5-ounce glass of red wine. And the phenolic compounds in chocolate exhibited an antioxidant effect equal to or greater than that of red wine.

I am beginning to think that chocolate should be the official food of Lent. Don't understand? Well, as your second grade teacher used to say, "Pay careful attention!"

If chocolate gives you a healthier heart and Lent is about having a healthier (read holier) heart, then chocolate and prayer must be like spiritual relatives - right? Mightn't the equivalent to the antioxidant effect mentioned in the research be the increase of grace? The presence of grace in your system stops your spiritual life from being clogged with gunk, not unlike your kitchen sink or bathroom drain.

Think of chocolate's antioxidant factor as the virtual reality equivalent to the Spirit's work in our lives. Chocolate puts you one up in the spiritual fitness category. Be assured that eating chocolate alone will not guarantee your place at the heavenly banquet, but it may raise your potential.

Or consider a chocolate Lent from a different perspective. We all recognize chocolate as a stimulant or a "feel good food." The research I've done indicates that our captivating confection contains more than 300 known chemicals that provide the "lift" that chocolate eaters experience.

This temporary, (virtual?), sense of well being may help us to be more receptive to the spiritual lift we are offered in the season of Lent. Do we not proclaim that God gives us a spiritual "lift" [grace?] Once again, we are faced with the fact that chocolate may actually help us be more receptive to God's presence.

I do not promote this Lenten discipline from any self-interest in chocolate myself. Indeed, ask my wife or my team mate here in the Family Life Department. They will sadly attest that I am all too easily able to pass it by. I proffer this Lenten discipline because, all too often in our explorations of the divine, we overlook the graces God has given us for graces we anticipate God has in store. We have far too many useless tapes in our heads that cause stress and anxiety that only a bar of chocolate can cure. God is in the details.

When I tested this theory on a person wandering the halls of the Diocesan office, I was immediately told to produce the chocolate. I infered from this response that I was on target in my theory. Thus my task during Lent will be to provide chocolate grace to all that enter here.

The word for this week came up during my chocolate research. It is "conching." Let me know if you know what it means ([email protected]).

(Rinkoski is diocesan director of Family Life.)

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