In one of my businesses, I write and ghostwrite content for small businesses. In that part of my life I have to engage in a practice that I despise as a writer but reluctantly accept as a business writer: listed articles. "Four ways to cope with a blizzard" or "Three ways to a beautiful garden this Spring," that kind of stuff. It's gimmicky but - for now - the marketplace and Google likes it and it works to help businesses and their content get found. Sometimes - gimmicks aside - the method is actually appropriate.
For purposes of this article, remember that the complaining is always coming from the "old man," he who must be disciplined and suppressed, and he doesn't represent what I aspire to! This article was inspired by a recent conversation with H.E. Bishop Daniel Dolan, in which he said to me that "Lent should last longer." It made me think of how to productively do that, while still cooperating with the enjoyment that a season like Easter provides.
Lent 2014 #1: "I hate fasting."
Most of my friends know that I'm not just a curious omnivore, but am also a gourmand. It can't be said that food has nothing to do with my current stay in France!
Fasting takes something I legitimately enjoy - the planning, preparing, cooking, and eating of meals - and restricts it. And yet from the very first day of Lent this year, I felt that restriction already paying dividends.
I was more aware of the Liturgical Season. When the Church's Year crosses over into your daily life you're more inclined to think on spiritual matters and your personal spiritual progress.
Your body has to adjust - you give it less and so it has to ask for less. You have to remember to bear your "suffering" (I laugh to call it that. It's not even close.) patiently.
You have to prevent yourself from overcompensating. Your body - and mind - try to leverage the main meal for all its worth after making it through up to two non-meals during the day. If you let that happen you've defeated your whole day.
Post Lent 2014 #1: I will fast one day per week.
I have to put my body, and the old man, into their places. As if the spiritual benefits of this practice aren't enough, there are numerous health benefits as well.
Lent 2014 #2: "What, no fun?"
When a Catholic makes vacation plans, he should always - in whatever way possible - try to account for attendance at Sunday Mass. That being said, sometimes our plans are subject to the strains on our clergy, i.e. Mass is unavailable in many places. I purposely had my schedule clear so that I could not just be here in Paris this week, but did a lot of my project work ahead of time so that my Thursday-Saturday would be free for liturgical ceremonies. Alas, we won't have any Holy Week services at our chapel outside of Masses offered Monday through Wednesday. The Fathers have a lot of demands upon them and we should use such occasions to pray for vocations to the priesthood and to be grateful for the times we are afforded Mass. I encourage those of you who are in my position to follow along with St. Gertrude's this week (and also remember if you're a "visiting member" of the congregation that you should think of putting a coin in the collection basket, easily done here.).
Ultimately, during Lent we should seek to deprive ourselves of "little" pleasures - museum visits, going out to dinner, theater performances or films - perhaps even something reasonable and necessary for our mental health - walks in the park. As I looked back on this Lent I truly feel that I could have done a better job in either redirecting some of my leisure activities to a non-fast day, like Sunday, or eliminating them altogether.
Post Lent 2014 #2: I will pick a day per week that I am not allowed legitimate pleasures.
This will make it easier to observe the reality of life "not as usual" during these blessed 40 days when this Season comes around again. It will also help me to make progress during the "good times" when fasting is far from our minds!
Lent 2014 #3: Holy Week is the hardest
Human nature is stubborn and whiny. If you want to complain about our very light disciplines during Lent during this epoch of the Church - simply look back to previous disciplines in the Roman Rite - no red meat at the main meal - or at the ever austere Eastern Rites, where you lose fish, olive oil, and eggs, too!
After weeks of telling yourself no and no and no, the spirit wants to say yes. And yet, we should have the spirit that track runners have as they round the bend into the final turn of the race: spend it all. Don't hold anything back. Let Easter Sunday be your light to finish well, and hard; accuse yourself well, knowing that failings at this late stage of the Season are traps set by the Enemy, who is so eager to snare us after we have, perhaps, avoided him for 36 days.
Post Lent 2014 #3: Next Lent I will introduce an extra discipline during Passiontide.
This will not just call attention to the proximity of our joy but it will also serve to push down harder on those pages of my soul that want to curl backwards and away after not receiving its perceived due for "so long": obedience to its will.
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the institution of the priesthood. Maybe take a few moments tonight to write a card, or at the very least, an email, to the priests in your life? Thank them for all that they do for you and it will be a welcome thought to them on a truly happy day in the midst the seriousness and gravity of settimana santa.