LAS CRUCES, N.M - The Lenten season is underway and Catholics are preparing for 40 days of abstaining and fasting.
Deacon David McNeill with the Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces says lent is a time to reflect.
"During lent, we use the time to take stock of ourselves, how we're living our lives and do things that will help us to become more spiritual," Deacon McNeill said.
Deacon McNeill says during lent, which begins Ash Wednesday, Catholics model the way several incidents in the Bible happened. Mainly when Christ prepared for his public light when he fasted in the desert. The Bible states Jesus Christ spent 40 days and fasting in the desert before his public ministry. Catholics essentially spend the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday imitating Christ.
A large way Catholics model Christ and the Bible is by fasting and abstaining. Deacon McNeill says fasting is when Catholics eat only the equivalent of two meals. The only two days of fasting during lent are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Abstaining from meat on Fridays is another way Catholics observe lent. Deacon McNeill says on Fridays during lent season, Catholics should not eat the meat of warm-blooded animals including lamb and cattle. They are allowed to eat fish, which is a symbol of Jesus Christ.
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, meat was associated with celebrations and feasts and was considered a luxury in some cultures. They add, "while fish, lobster and other shellfish are not considered meat and can be consumed on days of abstinence, indulging in the lavish buffet at your favorite seafood place sort of misses the point. Abstaining from meat and other indulgences during lent is a penitential practice."
"The idea of doing that is that self-denial that's the sacrifice that helps us to improve our spiritual life," Deacon McNeill said.
Deacon says there are fine lines and exceptions to fasting and abstaining.
"Abstaining from meat means that you don't eat the meat but you can cook in things like lard or chicken soup, is the juices but not the meat, so you could eat that."
There are also times when people have special needs and are excused.
"If they have an illness and they eat meat everyday obviously that would take precedence over the abstinence rules."
Deacon McNeill also says young children and adults over 59 are excluded because children need the sustenance in order to grow and those older than 59 need to keep their health on track.
He adds giving something up for lent isn't necessarily good. He says the sacrifice should be used to do good.
"The idea of lent is internal spirituality, looking at how we live our lives and staying asking ourselves what can I do to live better the way Christ would want me to live? So for a long time it wasall about, "well I'm giving up something," which really doesn't work because most of the things are things that "make us fat" or things that we know we shouldn't be drinking so much, and that's not spiritual, that's cosmetic. So rather than worry about what I'm giving up, the question should be what am I doing to make myself better."
Deacon McNeill says one example would be giving up cigarettes.
"It's not a spiritual excercise. If you take the money that you would've used to buy cigarettes and give it to the poor, that changes that aspect. So we tend to look more at the positive side of what we do to help others to change ourselves so we're more Christian."
The Lenten season ends Easter Sunday.