Feeding the soul: Getting to the heart of Lent

Friar Tuck was living in a monastery and it was the middle of Lent. All the other monks had given up talking for Lent and, as such, were doubly frustrated when Friar Tuck was eating more than his fair share of the community’s already sparse food.

Even though it was Lent, Friar Tuck’s girth was still expanding and the monks couldn’t say a thing or they’d be breaking their promise of silence.

So, some of the monks communicated this problem to the bishop — perhaps by sign language, or I’m guessing by mail — and Friar Tuck was summoned to meet with the bishop at the bishop’s house.

The bishop and Friar Tuck sat down in the bishop’s office where there was a plate with two muffins.

One muffin was big and thick with sultanas and jam oozing out. The other was small, plain and downright decrepit.

The bishop smiled at Friar Tuck and pointed to the muffins, saying: “After you, Friar.”

Friar Tuck put his head down bashfully and replied: “Oh no, Bishop, after you.”

“No no, Friar,” said the bishop, “you are my guest. After you.”

Friar Tuck replied humbly: “Oh I couldn’t choose first Bishop. You are a bishop, whereas I am only a lowly monk. After you.”

The bishop smiled again and said: “No no, Friar. I insist. You first.”

“Very well, Bishop!” said Friar Tuck.

Finally, with that, Friar Tuck picked up the huge, juicy muffin and shoved it straight in his gob.

In angry disgust, the bishop shouted at the greedy friar.

“Why, you disgraceful glutton, Friar Tuck! You took the big muffin! And in Lent!”

Friar Tuck looked at the bishop surprised and with a mouthful of muffin replied: “What’s the matter, Bishop?”

“You took the big muffin!” shouted the bishop. “Ah … and?” replied Friar Tuck.

The bishop explained: “Well, Friar Tuck, if I had have chosen first, I would have left the big muffin for you by taking the small muffin for myself!” Friar Tuck looked at the bishop with a confused look on his face and exclaimed: “Well, you got the small muffin. What are you complaining about?”

Self-denial can be seen as something that hinders freedom. But when it is practiced, it creates a peace and true freedom of the soul, allowing it to reach a higher level of understanding. To achieve victory, it requires us to descend into our heart and do battle.

When my less religious friends have asked me over the years what Lent is all about, I try to explain that it’s not just we Catholics who attempt it.

Quite a few Protestants do, too. Muslims observe Ramadan, Buddhists priests and nuns fast regularly and Judaism has fast days too. Their response is usually the same: “So why fast?”

Lent is a time of musing when we withdraw from things that obscure our vision to see clearly the path ahead.

It is therapeutic for the soul to rid it of imperfections that keep us from becoming all God intends us to be.

It involves discipline on a very personal level involving self-denial of things that we enjoy, but do not necessarily need, for a time. The practice of self-control is somewhat of a lost art in today's world with rare exceptions like health and fitness.

Self-denial can be seen as something that hinders freedom. But when it is practiced, it creates a peace and true freedom of the soul, allowing it to reach a higher level of understanding.

To achieve victory, it requires us to descend into our heart and do battle.

If you never have, try this just once. Wait until you are ready to have lunch: have the money, have the time to go and be hungry for your food. However, do not go to lunch.

Take the money you would have used for lunch and give it to the poor. Then be hungry until your dinner.

Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing — that is, do all this so quietly that nobody even notices and don’t ever tell anybody you did this — take it to the grave.

This may sound crazy, but it will not feel crazy because you will have fed your soul.

Today’s lunch will be forgotten tomorrow, but if you do the above fast — provided you do not tell anyone else — you will remember this fast for a long time, because you will have fed your soul.

Twitter: @fatherbrendanelee