As we begin our Lenten season tomorrow (our Eastern brethren began it yesterday), we Catholics are given the opportunity to once again discover the key to spiritual growth, and to once again correct our vices and imperfections we have accumulated since last Lent.
In many Catholic circles today, Lent is viewed simply as “what food we give up.” Abstaining from food is a good thing, but there is a real danger in presenting Lent as a sort of Catholic dieting program. St. John Chrysostom dispels this notion when he says the following about fasting:
The value of fasting consists not only in avoiding certain foods, but in giving up of sinful practices. The person who limits his fast only to abstaining from meat is the one who especially lowers the value of it… Do you fast? Prove it by doing good works. If you see someone in need, take pity on them. If you see a friend being honored, don’t get jealous of him. For a true fast, you cannot fast only with your mouth. You must fast with your eye, your ear, your feet, your hands, and all parts of your body.
At its heart Lent is about amending your life. It’s not a test of discipline to see if you can do this or that for 40 days. If you give up rash judgment for 40 days, but immediately start doing so on Easter Monday, what good is that fasting? When the Psalmist states “Sacrifice and oblation you did not desire” (Psalm 40:1), this is the false sacrifice that he has in mind. This is a sacrifice which does not actually change the soul for the better. Instead, the sacrifice must lead to “Behold I come to do your will.”
This is the part we frequently forget when it comes to Lent. Abandoning vice is insufficient, lest we become clean only to return to our own filth. (2 Peter 2:20-21) Once we have abandoned vice, we must then acquire virtue.
Key to this will be the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If you can go daily, you will find no better weapon to help you along this goal. You are fed by both Word and Sacrament, and both will conform you to the Image of the Son.
This will be our focus at Catholic Lane for the next 40 days as well. I’ve assembled a team of writers (some old, some new) to talk about Lent from this perspective. How can we use our Lenten observance to become better at living our faith, instead of just better at denying ourselves certain things?
These writers will focus on the readings of the day’s Mass and offer short but direct reflections on how we should be using these examples to live out our Lenten journey. I hope you will find this journey as profitable as I have found compiling it.