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The Purbalite

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Lenten traditions evolve with the times

Some students, staff create new traditions while others observe traditional ones
People mark the Lenten season in a variety of ways, some traditional and others focused on growth or self-improvement. Photo by Keegan Houser via

Sophomore Julian Marshall doesn’t consider himself religious, but he has chosen to go vegan during Lent.

Because of his interest in religion, Marshall is practicing asceticism, a lifestyle in which the main goal is to abstain from worldly pleasures to achieve spiritual goals – as many people traditionally have done during Lent. 

“I like religion as just a thing to study. I think it’s interesting,” Marshall said. “And I also just thought it would be an interesting thing to do as a self-improvement (method).”

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I like religion as just a thing to study. I think it’s interesting.

— Julian Marshall

While people might traditionally think of Lent as a time when Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays, the reality today is more complex. Some people mark the season in the traditional way, while other religious people are taking a different approach, and some non-religious people, like Marshall, are observing their own traditions.

Marshall first became interested in religion through his great-grandma. 

“She was religious, and sometimes she’d read the Bible to me,” Marshall said. “I just think it’s interesting as a thing because I like philosophy. And theology, philosophy, and religion all tie into each other. So it’s part of just who I am.”

Marshall said that as a result of this vegan experiment, he has lost seven pounds so far. 

“I’m eating a lot less processed stuff, which is really good for me,” Marshall said.

Despite such good results, Marshall does not plan to continue with being vegan. But through this experience, he has learned to watch what he’s eating, and he is considering what he’s putting in his body more often.

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I’ve started to do something a little more in terms of self-betterment rather than giving something up.

— Jerad Smith

Jerad Smith, who runs Baldwin’s Chill Room, is a Catholic who believes that Lent is a time for self-improvement and improving mental health. As a result, he has chosen not to give something up, but rather to set both religious and self-improvement goals.

After getting baptized at the age of 30, Smith became more invested in the aspects of his religion, including Lent. 

“I’ve started to do something a little more in terms of self-betterment rather than giving something up,” Smith said.

In recent years, Smith has instead made goals for himself such as reading the Bible more, establishing a healthy exercise routine, and even calling his dad more. 

“Those things have been way more fulfilling than giving something up has ever been,” Smith said.

Smith agreed that Lent can be something that even non-religious people can participate in. 

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In my family, we can either give up or gain something. In my case, I’m trying to read more.

— Caroline Presto

“I think the foundation of many religions – if you strip away the talk of divine beings – I think there’s some really good stuff for just generally being happier, healthier (and) treating each other better,” Smith said.  

Junior Caroline Presto, who is also Catholic, chose to set goals for herself during Lent.

“Personally, in my family, we can either give up or gain something,” Presto said. “In my case, I’m trying to read more.”

Presto said she uses this practice to both reflect on the day and as a way to connect with her religion more.

But many Christians and Catholics still celebrate Lent in the traditional way of giving something up. For example, freshman Logan Huwalt chose to give Pizza Hut for Lent.

“The first week of Lent, I was just trying to figure out what I could give up,” Huwalt said. “Then  I realized that I’ve had Pizza Hut a little more than I should have, so I gave that up to try to cut back on it.”

Huwalt recently joined the high school track team and said that cutting back on pizza has helped him feel less weighed down.

Dr. Elisabeth Vasko, associate professor in theology at Duquesne, explained the meaning behind religious practices that take place during Lent.

People will often use the terms almsgiving, fasting, and praying in conjunction with Lent. These practices are intended to help people build their relationship with Jesus and the community,” Vasko said. “For example, almsgiving isn’t really about putting cash in the collection basket – it’s more about connecting with your neighbor. The purpose of fasting is not to lose weight, but to remove distractions.”

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Then I realized that I’ve had Pizza Hut a little more than I should have, so I gave that up to try and cut back on it.

— Logan Huwalt

Vasko added that what fascinates her about Lent is that it was born out of a group of people who witnessed their leader get murdered, but they still were able to continue through that hardship. 

“Christians are not only celebrating that God has risen but also that the community has risen too,” Vasko said. “Lent is a time for Christians to connect with our neighbors, to pray, and to get rid of that which distracts us from our higher purpose.”

Ron Moore, senior pastor at the non-denominational Bible Chapel in McMurray, reflected on the various ways that people today approach Lent. 

“Just using the season as a way of self-improvement is something that I had never really heard of before,” Moore said. “But I think that is very interesting.”  

Moore said that today’s generations are becoming more spiritual, which could be a reason why people’s views of Lent have changed so much. A modern view of Lent provides new outlooks and ways of celebrating it. 

“Some of the younger generation are actually very much into liturgy,” Moore said. “This is good as long as these spiritual disciplines are not seen as seasonal. They should be ongoing.”

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Emma Powell
Emma Powell, Staff Writer
Emma Powell is a sophomore and a first year Staff Writer. If she’s not at theater rehearsal, she can be found reading a good book, watching a hockey game, or hanging out with friends.
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