Personal development, particularly stoicism, continues to grow in popularity in our ever more secular world, but many of those who engage in the newly popular "life hacks" of early rising, cold showers, meditation, and fasting would be surprised to know that Catholicism has systematic personal development (and has used all of those aforementioned practices) built into its Liturgical Calendar, and we've just passed through the key season of trial: Lent.
Long before research studies validated that 40 days of doing (or not doing) something definitively forms a new habit, the Church simply imitated the example of Our Lord in the wilderness, which itself was a fulfillment of numerous echoes of 40 throughout the Old Testament. Lent is rich with opportunity...if we don't let it go when it ends.
This week is a joyous one, for the reason that we celebrate death's death. Our Lord went into the tomb and with Him died all that had come before. His Resurrection, captured forever on the Shroud, defines our new life, then, now, and forever. It is true that fasting is forbidden by the Church not just for the 40, but for the 50 days after Easter. Just as those multiple Alleluias more than compensate for all the ones we "lost" in Lent, so too does our celebration exceed our sorrow, for the bridegroom is now with us, and will be for some time. We do not yet have to say, "Mane nobiscum Domine."
But, while the Church forbids fasting, she does not forbid you from abstinence from meat. She does not forbid you from skipping dessert. She does not forbid you from doing Stations of the Cross (which, as Bishop Dolan and I discussed some years ago, is not a "Lenten" devotion). She does not forbid you from attending weekday Mass. In short, you do not have to surrender all the progress you made, perhaps since Septuagesima, in a riot of bacon, chocolate, and bourbon. As an aside, should you need motivation to start Lent "earlier" next year, simply read Dom Gueranger's Liturgical Year to realize just how cold our hearts have grown in comparison to the faith of previous ages.
This is a season of Triumph. Keep the triumphs of Lent in position. Make those good resolutions and practices permanent. Move the goalposts forward so that our next Lent moves us closer to what should be our goal in every liturgical season: to know nothing else but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.