The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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February 23, 2001 Issue

Joel invites us to special Lenten feast

For Lent 2001, let every family have a special weekly assembly for one meal

By Tom Rinkoski

In my humble opinion, Ash Wednesday needs to learn something from Fat Tuesday. The best of our Lenten intentions have been hamburglared and McMuffined.

I fear we may be spawning additional familial problems with our utilitarian, efficient and economic attitudes toward Lenten reform. We approach Lent as a business proposition: "Assign yourself 5 penitential practices and we'll measure your outcomes on Easter." It is a fast food approach to a fasting season.

Do not get me wrong. I believe that good habits and thoughtful attitudes have far-reaching effects for both individuals and society at large. I do endorse self-discipline as a way of building character. Ready. Set. Chill.

In the first reading for Ash Wednesday, which is from the Book of Joel, the writer inserts the idea of a fast in between blowing a "trumpet" and "calling an assembly." This Ash Wednesday author states that this assembly you are calling together for this supposed "fast" should include elders, children and infants at the breast. (It's beginning to sound more like my wife's annual family reunion than the Friday fish stick dinners I remember.)

Thinking even further outside the box, Joel suggests that this "assembly" should be such a hot event that a bride and bridegroom would leave their honeymoon suite to check out what's happening! Now, I don't know about you, but I certainly would not have left my honeymoon suite for a "feast" of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fish sticks, or that pasta mom used to make, the one with garlic oil sauce. But, scripture says the kind of Lenten assembly intended would get me out of doors on my honeymoon. If you don't believe me, check out the reading for yourself. It's stunning stuff!

Who am I to disagree? As a father of a domestic church, cook, family life educator for the Diocese of Green Bay, and confessed admirer of Joel, I suggest that this Lent, every family should have a weekly "assembly" of the scope and magnitude that this Ash Wednesday scripture recommends.

Here are some guidelines to use that I see as I read in between the lines:

1) Set aside time - a heaping helping of it. Perhaps you might institute "Lenten Formal Fridays."

2) Clear your eating table of all the piles that have attached themselves. Send the newspapers to the recycling. Put the bills where you will not lose them.

3) Find a table cloth. If you don't have one, get one on sale. Add some cloth napkins.

4) Put out some real candles. If you have little kids, some helium balloons and/or those party sprinkles would be a nice touch.

5) Use your best table settings (what are you saving them for - a funeral?). While you're at it set an extra place or two. It is a scriptural thing to do!

6) Invite, but do not force all members of your family to join you. The first time you might even write-up formal invitations and attach them to their doors. According to Joel's instructions, if we build it, they will come.

7) Cook a meal worth salivating about. (This is a pot and pan thing. Microwaves are not proper Lenten appliances and should be "given up" during these events). If possible have several courses, including dessert. Maybe you should start with dessert! This is reminiscent of how last Lent how I suggested chocolate was a spiritual food.

8) When you open this assembly, Lenten feast, with prayer begin by enjoying the smells.

Eat Slow. Call an assembly. This is my prescription for Lent 2001. Have a Joel feast and eat slow. Do it at least once a week. Talk while you eat. Although I recommend you not talk with your mouth open. It took my wife a while to teach me that, and I've become accustomed. Don't just debrief, or exchange data, but have a real honest to God (and each other) conversation. Reclaiming your dinner table and the connections may just be the most direct form of "reconciling" that St. Paul invites us to in the second reading for Ash Wednesday. It would be a Lenten discipline that will benefit our domestic churches, our parish churches and, I dare say, our communities!

Let me know how this happens. Share your menus with one another (and with me). Enjoy the Lenten feast!

(Rinkoski is the Green Bay Diocese's Family Life director.)

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