Have you given anything up this Lent?
It seems everywhere I turn this year, I have found recommendations about “doing” things for Lent. I’ve seen flyers taped to church doors, I’ve received videos from Catholic apostolates, and I’ve heard discussions via Catholic radio. They don’t suggest that we not attempt a physical discipline; but while they encourage us to engage in spiritual reading, help the poor, perform the corporal and spiritual works for mercy or spend more time in prayer, they say virtually nothing about restraining our appetites in any way.
This “do something positive” trend seems to have increased in recent years. But while the above suggestions are all laudable activities, we should remind ourselves that the saints would not have separated living out their faith in a positive way from disciplining themselves via abstinence, fasting and mortification. In fact, they considered the spiritual life to be deeply connected with the physical. They recognized that when we lack discipline in our physical lives, our spiritual lives suffer.
Here are just a few comments from the saints on physical discipline (or a lack thereof) and its relationship with the soul:
Do you not know that fasting can master concupiscence, lift up the soul, confirm it in the paths of virtue, and prepare a fine reward for the Christian? -Saint Hedwig of Silesia
Irrational feeding darkens the soul and makes it unfit for spiritual experiences. – St. Thomas Aquinas
As long as a single passion reigns in our hearts, though all the others should have been overcome, the soul will never enjoy peace. – St. Joseph Calasanctius
It is almost certain that excess in eating is the cause of almost all the diseases of the body, but its effects on the soul are even more disastrous. – St. Alphonsus Liguori
The more we indulge ourselves in soft living and pampered bodies, the more rebellious they will become against the spirit. – St. Rita of Cascia
Yes, of course we should engage in activities that help others or increase our spiritual knowledge and time with Christ. But we shouldn’t allow those things to excuse us from taming our passions and appetites.
Unfortunately, many times we allow our sacrifices to become ends in themselves. Perhaps this explains the “upswing” in recommendations for other Lenten activities. After all, things like prayer, spiritual reading, or even practicing works of mercy directly impact our relationship with The Lord, whereas giving up cake could seem like a random and inconsequential activity. But the fact is that our faith is not either…or; it should be both…and.
We will not have a fruitful Lent just because we declare that we are “giving up _____.” Rather we should remember that those physical sacrifices are not ends in themselves. The end of all discipline must be love. We give up chocolate, – or whatever else – to remind ourselves that this world is fleeting. It is an expression of love that we lavish on Our Lord, passionately declaring that this television set, this candy bar, this ice cream, this cake, these cookies – any and all things which we enjoy in this life – are but nothing compared to Him.
This is the time of year when, as individuals united with the entire Church, we encourage ourselves to walk through the fires of discipline and denial for Our Beloved! This is our time in the desert. This is when, by God’s grace, we face the temptation of X, and we declare,
Man should not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the Father’s mouth. – Matthew 4:4.
It is when we look over all creation and remind ourselves,
You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve. – Matthew 4:10
There is great power in knowing that by Gods’ grace we can be in control. That our appetites do not rule us. Provided we always keep in mind the ultimate end of self-control:
The purpose of asceticism, self-denial and mortification is the growth in charity or love of God. Christian self-denial is not based on the idea that the world, or the flesh are intrinsically wicked, but on the conviction that God is intrinsically good. – Archbishop Fulton Sheen
We release the chains of this world so we can bind ourselves more closely to Christ. Doing so will help us to live our faith more fully. God’s grace helps us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked or visit the imprisoned. And that grace flows abundantly when one of His children demonstrates a commitment to God, the Father, in heaven over the material gods of the earth.
So – What have you given up this Lent? There’s still time…
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