— G.K. Chesterton
— G.K. Chesterton, from The Man Who Was Thursday (via the-final-sentence)
— G.K. Chesterton: from ‘Undergraduate Ragging,’ in The Illustrated London News, Dec. 28, 1907
In 1906 he ran for a seat in the English parliament. His opponent, knowing that Belloc was a devout Catholic and of French blood, made his slogan “Don’t vote for a Frenchman and a Catholic.” Belloc responded by standing up amidst his Protestant audience and saying: For those who still cannot see the problem, or who still believe that we do in fact vote authentic men into office, perhaps a comparison between two men of different nations and different times will suffice. I choose them not for their faith, but for the types of character they illustrate.(via the-last-crusade)
This is the second time I’ve written this out, so it’s totally different and much longer, and I still feel like I’ve missed something. Sigh. Here’s hoping tumblr doesn’t eat it this time anyway.
The topic is: Lent.
What Lent is not: Time for “new year’s resolutions.” Period of lusting after whatever we’ve given up prior to indulging in a gluttony of it. A self-help program.
What Lent is: A crucible. Christ’s invitation to stay awake and wait with him in the Garden. The path to Cavalry. Asceticism. Penitential. Sacrifice. A cathedral of silence in which we wait for the voice of the Lord.
Clearing up some common misconceptions: We are required to give something up for Lent. Adding new/extra pious practices or good works to our lives is important and helpful, but that’s a matter of choice. The nature of Lent is the fast. The Church requires certain sacrifices from us and asks us to choose a sacrifice of our own, pertinent to our own lives.
What does that mean? Current canon law and the Novus Ordo usage of the Latin Rite require Catholics to abstain from meat, that is, not to consume meat, on Ash Wednesday, Fridays, and Good Friday during Lent. Fasting, or the limiting of eating to one main meal and two smaller meals that do not together equal a full meal, is required only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. More details about this as well as details of the Traditional Latin abstinence and fasting requirements are here. See also, see also.
We are also asked to choose something from our own lives to fast from for the whole period of Lent. Many grown people still take a child’s view of this, giving up something inconsequential; something that might be a bit of an inconvenience or annoyance to do without, but something that does not affect their lives overall during Lent. But the nature of Lent is to bring us wholly, body and soul, into a profound encounter with the Cross. St. Benedict writes in chapter 49 of the Rule,
At all times the lifestyle of a monk ought to have a Lenten quality. However, because few have that kind of strength, we urge them to guard their lives with all purity during these Lenten days. All should work together at effacing during this holy season the negligences of other times.
The proper way to do this is to restrain ourselves from all evil habits and to devote ourselves to tearful prayer, reading, compunction of heart and asceticism. Therefore in these days, we should increase the regular measure of our service in the form of special prayers and abstinence from food and drink. In that way each one, of his own free will with the joy of the Holy Spirit, can offer God something beyond what is imposed on him. Let him deny his body some food, some drink, some sleep, some chatter, some joking, and let him await Holy Easter with the joy of spiritual desire.
You cannot ”fast” from sins or bad habits. The nature of the fast is to give up something good for a season. Whatever you choose to give up should be a good thing, one you can resume again with joy during the Easter season, although perhaps with greater moderation and a healthier overall attitude towards worldly enjoyments.
We should also work extra hard at eliminating our sins and bad habits during Lent. Attachments to sins and imperfections prevent us from loving Christ as fully as we should. Left unheeded, those attachments will lead us all the way to hell.
The most helpful Lenten observances unite the added practices, the chosen fast, and the required fast sand abstinences into a cohesive whole, one journey that we undertake to purify ourselves body and soul so as to be worthy to be raised with Christ at Easter.
What might this look like? First, identify your primary failings. A big one for me is distraction and all it entails, things like procrastination and sloth. Although the following details are not from my life, it’s an easy example for me to elaborate on:
Let’s say one of your primary stumbling blocks is distraction. You want to grow closer to the Lord, but distractions make it difficult. You want to pay more attention and be more focused at mass, and you want to give up something for Lent that will help with this. So you might choose to give up using social media on your phone. Using social media on your phone isn’t bad in and of itself, but it takes over your life sometimes and prevents you from doing other things you should be doing. So you fast from it. In addition, you could choose to get to mass a little earlier than usual, making whatever sacrifice is necessary to do so—not sleeping in, skipping breakfast, or whatever—so you have time to focus yourself and pray before the liturgy begins. You might also decide to attend daily mass at least once a week. Both of those things are additions, good practices to help you develop good habits.
And, most important, whenever you are tempted to use social media on your phone, you could use that as a reminder to say a quick prayer, or do something that needs to be done. The point is not just to feel the lack of this small good, but to use it to point you towards the greater good of God. That is the soul and center of asceticism
The good habits you develop you may want to (or should) keep throughout the year. Your long-term goals might be to have a more abundant, healthier prayer life, to use social media less, to use it with a holier disposition, or to be more responsible with your daily routine and responsibilities, or all of the above. And you achieve those by the simple act of denying yourself the daily, instant social media checkup on your phone, and channeling that urge more directly into service of God.
One thing this example highlights is what an achievable goal looks like. It’s easy to identify twenty different things you need to fix about yourself and make grand resolutions about all of them. That’s a recipe for failure. With enough examination, you can usually identify one root to several problems. Focus your Lenten observances and fasts at the root problem, with a daily goal for your giving-up that you can achieve, and you stand a good chance of making it through Lent without breaking your fast.
And, it should go without saying, any of this is only possible with prayer and reliance on God’s help. Because Lent is not a self-help program or character exercise routine. It’s not January first and this is not time for you to “fix yourself.” Lent is saying “yes” to God by putting Him first, above the little, dependent goods that we tend to cherish over Him. Lent is learning to rely totally on God, to ask Him to be your greatest need and reward and pleasure. Lent is cutting out the crap and the noise and listening for the small, still voice of the Lord in the silence of your soul.
In sum: We need to give something up for Lent. It should be something that matters, something good, that speaks to who we hope to become in Christ. We should approach Lent with solemnity and, yes, hope—Easter is coming. Christ will rise. First we must suffer through the dark night, but He is always with us, and the more surely we cling to Him, the more surely His embrace will bring us into heaven.
To misquote Fulton Sheen, in Lent we are crucified on either side of Christ. We can ask to be taken down, or, like St. Dismas, we can ask to be taken up.
ETA: Please check out my follow-up post, What to do about Lent when you’re struggling with depression, scrupulosity, or other mental health issues.