instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Penitence 40 Extreme (P40X): Lenten Prep

Here's some advice, should you have made such poor choices in your life that you're ready to take advice from the likes of me, on how to

Spend half an hour or so between now and bedtime Tuesday preparing for Lent.

What sort of preparations might you want to make for Lent, besides eating up all the meat and butter in the house? You might prepare thoughtful, written answers to the following four questions --

-- Wait. "Written answers"? Since when is Lent a take-home essay?

Well, as you'll see the answers are simply statements of your [non-binding under sin] commitments with respect to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (plus a bonus virtue) during Lent. Writing them down will make them more real to you, giving you visual and kinetic memory of them in addition to the thought memory.

Anyway, the questions are these:
1. How will I pray during Lent? Nothing fancy here. Pray more.

2. How will I fast during Lent? This is the P40X version of the question, "What am I giving up for Lent?" I use the verb "fast" purposefully, and I mean it literally: I will eat less food, less often, during Lent than I would otherwise.

Do I fast and give up other, non-food pleasures? Sure. Do I give up other, non-food pleasures instead of fasting? No.

Why do I (with the full authority of some guy on the Internet) insist on fasting from food? Because it is the custom of the Church.The Roman Catholic Church has certainly relaxed her discipline on this matter in recent years, but if you look into history, or look to the East, you'll find that fasting from food is what Christians do.

Moreover, fasting from food is what Christians do because fasting from food works. The one who fasts is changed -- literally, empirically, in a physically measurable way. And it happens that our bodies and our spirits are united in such a way that our spirits get hungry for God when our bodies get hungry for food -- when, at least, the physical hunger is chosen in order to spur the spiritual hunger.

If my end is closer conformity to Jesus Christ as a son of the Father in the love of the Holy Spirit, and as a means to that end I fast, then for me to notice I am hungry -- and notice it I do -- is for me to call to mind the end I desire even more than a pound of cheese and crackers. I reach out to God with the strength of will I would otherwise reach out to Nutella.

And on top of all that, to think of God while hungry engenders gratitude and thanksgiving for all the times I am not hungry.

3. How will I give alms during Lent? Nothing fancy here. Possible answers are:
  • To feed the hungry;
  • To give drink to the thirsty;
  • To clothe the naked;
  • To harbor the harborless;
  • To visit the sick;
  • To ransom the captive;
  • To bury the dead;
  • To instruct the ignorant;
  • To counsel the doubtful;
  • To admonish sinners;
  • To bear wrongs patiently;
  • To forgive offenses willingly;
  • To comfort the afflicted;
  • To pray for the living and the dead.
4. What virtue will I develop during Lent? Beyond commitments that are only made through Holy Saturday, the six and a half weeks of Lent is plenty of time to develop a good habit that will continue with you, ideally for the rest of your life and on into eternity.

To answer this question is to say, "I commit to making a conscious effort to perform acts of this particular kind often enough and regularly enough that, with God's grace, my performing these acts may become habitual by Easter Sunday."

With that in mind, a virtue like fortitude might be too broad in scope (not least if you agree with St. Thomas on its principle act). But you might focus in on something like patience, which is a part of fortitude, and to really get a handle on it, specify along the lines of "patience when my child interrupts me."

How specific you need to be depends on you and how developed the virtue already is in you. Remember, the goal is to rise on Easter morning with a new (or greatly strengthened) good habit. For that to happen, you not only need lots of opportunities to perform acts of that particular virtue over the next month and a half, you need to actually perform the acts when the opportunities arise.

At the same time, if you're praying, fasting, and giving alms, you'll be able to actually perform additional acts of virtue that you might not expect of yourself right now, so your commitment should seem a little risky to you.
So, having given the above questions some thought and prayer, write down your answers on a piece of paper. Then, on Ash Wednesday, ask God for the grace to fulfill your intentions, ask Mary and your favorite saints (not forgetting your guardian angel) to pray for you.