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Lent: Time to focus on inordinate affections

We can learn a lot about people by gaining an understanding of their everyday life and to that end I wrote last spring about the religious feasts of our Jewish, Hindu and Greek Orthodox friends. I am grateful to those who educated me on their traditions and from the comments you passed along, the information was of value to you, too.

As a cradle Episcopalian, I assumed everyone knows the traditions we honor during Lent and Easter. Of course, that couldn't be further from the truth. Not every denomination of Christianity will acknowledge Lent and Eastertide in the same way, though I feel that Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians and Anglicans celebrate in very similar styles. May I share with you what Lent means to us?

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is the 46-day period prior to Easter. It is a moveable feast, meaning that the date changes depending on when Easter is placed on the calendar. This season is intended to give Christians an opportunity to experience trials similar to what Jesus experienced during the 40 days he fasted in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry. He was tempted by Satan throughout those days. During Lent we are to discipline ourselves to be more Christ-like.

The day before Lent begins is called Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras; you might also know it as Fat Tuesday. Most folks associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans jazz music, colorful beads and wild costumes and untold debauchery. That is indeed part of the tradition, but most Christians mark the day in a much more subtle fashion. Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras, whatever you wish to call it, is the last day for eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season begins the next morning on Ash Wednesday.

Often parishes will hold pancake suppers - or Cajun dinners for that Mardi Gras flair - that evening.

The next day (Ash Wednesday) Lent begins. During Ash Wednesday services the sign of the cross is drawn on your forehead as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. In ancient times, dusting oneself with ashes was the penitent's way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults.

On the first Sunday of Lent it is traditional to read or sing the Great Litany from 'The Book of Common Prayer,' a collection of prayers for which we ask to be delivered from sin. The list is long and includes blindness of heart, pride, vainglory, hypocrisy, envy, hatred, malice, oppression, rebellion, violence and battle, and inordinate and sinful affections.

Father Shannon Leach of Christ Church Episcopal asked us to examine our souls for what we hold as 'inordinate affections.' Inordinate affections - things you have affection for beyond the normal limits. Those are the things we need to change during Lent to become more Christ-like. You may hear people say they have 'given up' something for Lent. What they have chosen to omit is something for which they have an inordinate affection.

Inordinate affections could be anything: A hunger for gossip, an obsession for chocolate, overindulging with food or alcohol, enjoying too much TV, staying up too late, being stingy toward others, being lax with family responsibilities. Whatever it might be, that is to be our focus during the next 40 days, so that we can become more like Christ.

Shannon also asks that we take time to look back over the events of the day to see where we could have been more Christ-like. In those shortcomings are opportunities for real growth as a Christian.

Likewise, if you would rather take the positive angle, he said you can review your day looking for the moments when you were indeed an instrument of God's goodness.

And so we progress through the six weeks of Lent. It is a thoughtful season and for those who take their Lenten discipline seriously, it can be hard work. Lucky for us that we get to take Sundays off from our discipline. Yes, though Lent is spaced 46 days ahead of Easter, it only lasts 40 days. The Sundays are considered feast days.

It's an old Catholic tradition to sacrifice meat and eat fish on Fridays. Today we enjoy eating fish as regularly as we do meat, so I don't think it has the same 'sacrificial' quality it did in years past. Regardless you will enjoy this quick and delicious fish recipe as well as the Five:30 chicken recipe. Stuffed with brie, it would be a great meal to serve on Sunday, when you aren't watching calories as carefully.

Bon Appetit! Eat something wonderful!

Fish Fillets with Olives and Oregano

Serves 4

4 1¼ inch thick pieces white fleshed skinless fish fillets, such as halibut or cod (6 ounces each)

¼ teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 very thin lemon slices

½ cup dry white wine

1/3 cup pitted brine-cured green olives such as picholine, halved lengthwise

1 to 1 ½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano or ¾ teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and preheat to 450ºF.

Pat fish dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sear fillets, until browned well, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to baking dish, (reserve skillet) then top each fillet with a slice of lemon.

Add wine to skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits. Boil 30 seconds, then pour around fish. Scatter olives around fish and bake, uncovered, until fish is just cooked through, 8 to 12 minutes.

Transfer fish to a platter, then whisk lemon juice, oregano, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil into cooking liquid in baking dish. Season sauce with salt and pepper and spoon over fish.

Adapted from Gourmet, May 2006

Five:30: A five-ingredient entree ready in 30 minutes or less

Spinach and Brie Stuffed Chicken

Serves 4

Kosher salt and ground pepper

8 thin chicken cutlets (1 ½ pounds total)

2 tablespoons Dijon

1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

4 ounces Brie, cut into 8 wedges

Set a large saucepan of salted water to boil. Heat broiler, with rack set 4 inches from heat. Place chicken on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Dividing evenly, spread one side of each cutlet with mustard, top with spinach and then cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Starting at the short end, roll chicken up tightly, seam side down, on sheet.

Season rolled chicken with salt and pepper. Broil, without turning, until tops are lightly browned and chicken is cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes.

Serve with orzo tossed with Parmesan and butter.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 ext 101 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..