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Fish-fueled Lenten journey begins

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By Vince Luecke

My cupboards are packed with peanut butter and jelly, mushroom soup and a few tins of sardines. My freezer holds  boxes of fish sticks and a sack of shrimp for some special pre-Easter occasion.

Lent is here and that means, at least for me this year, abstaining from meat and amending unhealthy behaviors.

In a quest to bolster my usual ho-hum approach to Lent, I'm trying to avoid meat through Easter. Yep, 40 days without steak, hamburger and pork chops. Call it an effort at self-denial and penance for years of eating poorly.

Meat, of course, should be part of most healthy diets, but since some people avoid meat on certain days during Lent - Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and other Fridays during the 40-day period - I've decided to attempt a meatless Lent. As of Friday, my vow was holding.

I'm doing my very best to make Lent a period of reform on several fronts: eating better, exercising more and spending more time reading instead of watching TV.

Years ago, while a Jesuit novice in Detroit, I successfully abstained from meat during an entire Lent. Doing so helped me shed about 20 pounds and that's my goal for the next five weeks. I've already started exercising more, rousing my creaky bones most mornings for a 30-minute walk, and my plan for the past weekend was to end my bicycle's winter retreat in an upstairs storage room at The News. Some evenings, when the weather is decent, I'll be pedaling a few blocks. Lengthening hours of sunlight certainly makes it easier to find exercise time.

Relocating a small library to a new house reminded me of how many books I purchased years ago that I either never cracked, didn't finish  or want to read again.

My Lenten reading list is an eclectic collection of fiction - Mark Twain, Willa Cather and Isabel Allende - a travelogue of the Rhine River, history of Viking explorers and biographies of Julius Caesar and Theodore Roosevelt.

I plan to give away the money I'll save by eating less and trimming my satellite-television bill. That will save me, conservatively, at least $5 per day and I'll be giving the money to a couple of groups as Easter nears. I invite you to do the same, regardless of what your Lenten observances are. Not all religious traditions observe Lent but even followers of other sets of beliefs encourage generosity toward others.

I'm sure all of us know of individuals, families and groups who could use a few more small donations.

When I was growing up, part of Lent in our family was saving small amount of change as part of a Rice Bowl program sponsored by Catholic Relief Services.

The cardboard "rice bowls" I set on a dresser in my room and filled with nickels, dimes and pennies - were a reminder of how small sacrifices can help others in significant ways.

I faithfully dropped the money into a big box at church when Easter had come and spent hours wondering where the couple of dollars I had contributed would end up and who would benefit.

In college, I participated in a program in which students were invited to go without food for about two days, a symbolic act of solidarity with the millions of people who have to go hungry.

I won't be suffering that much this Lent, not with Peter Pan and the Gordon's Fisherman to sustain me with protein. I'm still allowing myself a few luxuries, the occasional Diet Coke and a morning cup of coffee - and another at night if I'm working late.

Come Easter, I'll appreciate my hamburger or steak more than I would without these 40 days of penance and abstinence, self-reflection  and - hopefully - a little more prayer.