Christians prepare for Lent
Though not everyone gives up food or habits for Lent, Jeff Caithamer has taken the practice pretty seriously. One year, he gave up pizza, chocolate and soda — all at once.
"And I worked in a pizza place at the time," Caithamer said of his epic quest, which was successful. He is now a pastor at St. John Lutheran Church in Champaign.
Self-denial during the 40 days of Lent — mirroring Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness — is often thought of as a Roman Catholic thing, along with prayer and good deeds to others.
For Catholics, Lent starts in less than 24 hours, on Ash Wednesday.
But older Protestant faiths, such as Lutherans and Episcopalians, also stress Lent as an important time on the calendar.
And members of the Eastern Orthodox Church practice fasting with a great strictness.
At Three Hierarchs Greek Orthodox Church in Champaign, Father Michael Condos said the Lenten potluck can include no meat or dairy, but plenty of soups, pasta, shellfish and salads.
That's in contrast to Roman Catholicism, which has given the world the Friday fish fry.
This is fish season at Champaign's Seaboat Fish and Chicken, where co-owner Qaiyim Abdullah says, "It gets crazy around here."
"We sell 2 times as much fish here this time of year," he said.
The Esquire Lounge in downtown Champaign sells fish sandwiches on Fridays throughout the year, as well as on Ash Wednesday.
Co-owner Joe Donahue said fish sales pick up during Lent, with perhaps 50 percent more orders.
But the season isn't all about fish.
Father Joseph Donton of St. Malachy Catholic Church in Rantoul had a moment of triumph during the Lenten season while he was in seminary.
"I love anything deep-fried, but I gave that all up," he said.
He was having a bag of potato chips when a friend called him on it.
Donton turned to him and replied:
"Ah, but the bag says baked!"
Perhaps more difficult for Donton was giving up music one season.
"I didn't realize how much music is a part of your daily life, or how it affects our moods," he said. "We put on music to lift our spirits or to go with our depressed state. I found myself creeping into any room where music was playing."
Father Timothy Sauppe of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Westville has given up all meat during Lent.
"But Sundays of Lent are exempt; I would eat meat on Sunday," he said, describing it as a day of celebration.
Monsignor Gregory Ketcham of St. John's Catholic Newman Center on the University of Illinois campus, said it's important to remember all the elements of Lent rather than to focus too much on self-denial.
He noted that Pope Francis has stressed doing good for others.
Fasting serves as a form of prayer, but can be overdone.
"Years ago, people fasted so diligently that they harmed themselves," he noted.
Father Bo Schmitt, who serves churches in Pesotum and Philo, said fasting goes along with "more time in prayer with God and being more generous."
"We learn to say no to certain things to enable us to say yes to God," he said.
Monsignor James Ramer of Our Lady of The Lake in Mahomet said that there could be better things to give up than food.
"I would hope that we would have less gossip and less anger," he said.
Rick D. Williams of the Baptist Housing Ministry at the UI said fasting, prayer and service can include showing discipline in areas beyond food — say, cutting back on Facebook, for example.
At St. Paul's Catholic Parish in Danville, administrative assistant Barb Lattyer found a good use for the Internet this Lenten season.
"I'm taking an online spiritual retreat," she said, "and adding another Mass to my schedule."
Mark your calendars for Lent
One of the largest Ash Wednesday gatherings in the area will take place at 1:40 p.m. on the University of Illinois Quad. There will be an ash service with an expected 5,000 communicants, said Monsignor Gregory Ketcham of St. John's Catholic Newman Center.
Fridays throughout Lent, many churches mark the stations of the cross, the steps Jesus took carrying his burden. At Holy Cross Catholic Church in Champaign, the event begins at 5:30 p.m. this Friday, followed by benediction.
The Rev. James B. Ellison of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Urbana said services on Friday evening and Saturday morning before Palm Sunday are dedicated to the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
Before the Passover meal, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, notes the Rev. Sean Ferrell of Chapel of Saint John the Divine, an Episcopalian Church on the UI campus. At 7 p.m. on Maundy — or Holy — Thursday, the Holy Eucharist will include foot washing and the stripping of the altar.