Lent as a non-Catholic

With the holiday of Easter last week, the season of Catholic Lent has officially come to an end. Being raised heavily Catholic for my entire life, this Lent was especially important to me. This year was my first year celebrating Lent as a non-Catholic. Starting last fall, I officially cut my ties with the Catholic Church. I spent a long time enveloping myself in the concepts, purpose, and personal meaning that religion has for me and for society as a whole. I spent hours meditating and doing research until I finally decided that I could no longer stand to carry the weight of labeling myself as a Catholic. While the reasons aren't important for this post (perhaps I'll touch on that at another time), there are several traditions that the Catholic church supports that I still find worthwhile. Lent is definitely one of them.

So as a nonbeliever in Jesus Christ, why should one celebrate Lent?
The whole purpose of Lent is to identify with "Jesus' suffering on the cross" and atone for our "sins" which "Jesus has saved us from." (note heavy skeptical use of quotation marks)
So as someone who does not believe that Jesus was/is a Savior to the world, how can Lent still be important?

A long time ago, I asked my parents and my teachers why Catholics don't eat meat on Fridays during Lent. While most answers were "just because" or so that we could suffer (the great suffering of not eating meat for a WHOLE day *insert sarcasm*) like Jesus had. I found these answers to be immensely dissatisfying if not offensive. A man was murdered so I'm not going to have bacon with my eggs today. How does that possibly allow one to feel the suffering of a brutal execution? On top of that, Catholics would use the occasion of not eating meat to treat themselves to decadent seafood meals. Would Jesus truly feel your sympathetic pain as you scarf 20 fried shrimp down your gullet?
After doing more research, I found an answer I was more willing to play along with: In the time after Jesus' death, meat was extremely expensive and hard to come by. Seafood, however, was readily available due to the proximity of the first Christians to the bountiful sea. Therefore, they would abstain from meat, and eat the cheaper option. By eating a more modest meal, the early Christians would have more money that they would then donate to the poor.
THERE! Here's an answer that makes sense. You should make a small sacrifice to help others.

With this reason in mind, I feel that even as a nonbeliever, Lent can be a valuable exercise in self-restraint and humanitarian efforts to better the world. This past Lent (40 days or so), I practiced the tradition of abstaining meat for the entirety of the duration of Lent. It actually still much cheaper than purchasing meat if you purchase nuts, tofu, and other great protein alternatives such as small amounts of raw quinoa. Forgoing seafood due to its' current price near where I live, I ate a vegetarian diet for all of Lent and used the money I saved to help support the local homeless. Making them meals whenever they were in walking distance of my house, or just donating more money than usual proved to be an exercise that I found to be valuable.

So even if the season of Lent isn't dedicated to sympathizing with one man's suffering, I would heavily advocate for everyone to practice a season of heightened humanitarianism and self-evaluation.  Because Lent has a start and end date, it makes realizing goals easier to handle, and at the end of Lent, hopefully, you will walk away a slightly better person.

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