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VOL. 36 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 30, 2012

Fasting lowers energy level, ability to sin

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Lent is a 40-day period before Easter that begins on Ash Wednesday. It also is the Old English word for “spring.” It has that name because of the season of the year during which the 40 days fall. This name is unique to English. In almost all other languages, its name is a derivative of the Latin term quadragesima, or “the 40 days.”

Lent is 40 days long because that is a traditional number for discipline, devotion, and preparation in the Bible, i.e.: Moses stayed on the Mountain of God 40 days (Exodus 24:18 and 34:28); the spies were in the land for 40 days (Numbers 13:25); Elijah traveled 40 days before he reached the cave where he had his vision (1 Kings 19:8); Nineveh was given 40 days to repent (Jonah 3:4); and most importantly, prior to undertaking his ministry, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness praying and fasting (Matthew 4:2).

Western churches skip Sundays when counting the 40 days because they commemorate the Resurrection. Therefore, Lent always begins on Ash Wednesday, the seventh Wednesday before Easter. This year, with Easter being so early, Lent began on Feb. 22 and ends on April 5. However, in the Roman Catholic Church, Lent officially ends at sundown on April 7 (Holy Saturday), with the beginning of the mass of the Lord’s Supper. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians imitate Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for 40 days.

The Eastern Church does not skip over Sundays when calculating the length of the Great Lent. Therefore, the Great Lent always begins on Clean Monday, the seventh Monday before Easter, and ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday – using the eastern date for Easter.

In many countries, the last day before Lent is called Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival or Fasching, and has become a last fling before the solemnity of Lent. For centuries, it was customary to fast by abstaining from meat during Lent, which is why some people call the festival Carnival, the Latin term meaning “farewell to meat.”

Lent for most Catholics is an especially holy time. No matter how far removed from their practices, most Catholics know that the 40 days is to remind them of giving up something that is a sacrifice, and perform acts of self-denial – acts that are geared toward Christ. Since Lent is a period of prayer and fasting, it is fitting Christians to imitate the Lord with a 40-day period.

The reasons behind fasting are several:

• It is a self-imposed discipline. We do it in order to learn how to say “no” to our impulses.

• It is intended to lower the body’s energy level. The less energy we have, the less energy we have to “sin.”

• The lower energy level makes it much easier to pray.

• We want to remember the poor, and the experience of fasting helps do this. In fact, a person is to use the money saved as “alms” – given personally to disadvantaged persons.

Lenten menus:

For many, this starts a search for appetizing, non-meat meals. It can be an especially healthful eating time by serving fish, seafood, or veggie main dish.

It is a good time to try a different recipe, too. The potato and parmesan gratin is a great tasting side dish, or try the halibut in apple basil sauce for a delicious main dish.

Halibut in Apple Basil Sauce

4 6-oz. halibut steaks, thawed if necessary

3 T olive oil, divided

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 apple, pared, cored and sliced

1/4 cup each apple juice and dry white wine, or 1/2 cup apple juice

1 T fresh chopped, basil or 1 tsp. dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste

Brush halibut with one tablespoon olive oil; grill or broil fish 10 minutes or until fish flakes when tested with fork. Arrange on platter. Sauté onion in remaining olive oil until translucent; add apple, juice, wine, and basil. Bring to boil: reduce heat and simmer about two minutes or until reduced by one-third. Arrange on platter with fish.

Potato and Parmesan Gratin

2-1/2 lbs. russet potatoes – peeled, cut into 1/8” thick slices

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter

2 cups (packed) freshly grated parmesan cheese (about 10 oz.)

2 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter 13”x 9”x 2” glass baking dish, and layer 1/3 of potatoes evenly on bottom. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then drizzle with 1/3 of melted butter. Top with 1/3 of parmesan cheese. Repeat layering twice more, and then pour milk over top.

Bake 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Continue to bake until potatoes are tender, top is golden brown, and most of milk is absorbed, about 1 hour longer. Remove from oven; let stand 10 minutes and serve.

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