My preference is to make waffles for Mardi Gras breakfast, a tradition found in several cultures but in this country most popular in Episcopal churches, especially in New England---a Shrove Tuesday Pancake and Waffle Supper is a common fundraiser advertized in church bulletins. Here at Saint Bede Abbey, throughout the rest of the year I usually make multigrain sourdough waffles with canola oil, which have as much fiber as raw twine and are about as healthy as you can get for a food generally drenched in butter and syrup. But for Shrove Tuesday, I made my grandma's old fashioned waffles, using butter, lots of eggs, white sugar and not a whole grain anywhere in the batter.
But after the Carnival, Lent ever follows, so today begins the forty days of fast and abstinence observed with some rigor here at the monastery. Healthy monks are expected to fast every day, with a small amount of food (or none) at breakfast and lunch, with the main meal (the only one with meat, except on Fridays) at supper in the evening. Tonight's meatless chili was actually quite good and very filling, with cornbread on the side and fresh fruit for dessert. However, right now it's 10 p.m. and I am ravenously hungry. Normally I would go down to the kitchen and see if there's leftover cornbread to be had, but I'm restraining my base appetites.
And that's really why we do Lent, at least in my view. You can talk all you want about penance for our sins (and just about every Catholic writer has!) but none of this fasting and abstinence stuff will "earn" us forgiveness. Lest uninformed readers think I've gone over to the Lutheran side of the "faith vs. works" debate of the Reformation, let me assure you that faithful Catholics and Lutherans are in agreement on this point----check the Catechism! (You might also look up the 1999 Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.)
So why all the fuss over giving things up for Lent? First, it's a way of demonstrating one's monotheism---we show that food, entertainment, Facebook, etc., are not idols, that they are not more important than following Christ. But more importantly, our ascetical practices are a way of disciplining our appetites, so that we can open up a space of hospitality around us. If I restrain my appetites for food and drink and other legitimate pleasures, then little by little I lose the need to get my own way all the time. That means that when I encounter others, they're less likely to be "eaten", that is, to be used for my own pleasure or treated as objects.
So during Lent we discipline our bodies and our wills in order to free ourselves from selfishness, so that we may more readily attend to the needs of others. By restraining our unruly appetites for food, comfort, and other legitimate pleasures, we create a space for hospitality, so that we can eagerly welcome Jesus in whatever form he chooses to come.