As we neared the end of Lent, my mind was haunted by something a priest had said at the beginning of the liturgical season: “You should spend some time thinking about what you will take with you from this time.” So quickly do I run from the season of fasting, almsgiving and prayer right into the realm of Easter with all its celebration and feasting.
While it’s not advertised as a negative season by any means, the season of Lent can have a negative connotation because we often choose to go without certain indulgences, pleasures or conveniences. But the encouragement from this priest reminded me that Lent is meant to be a positive experience for us. The time we spend in fasting, prayer and almsgiving is meant to inform our celebrating and feasting. The ways we are invited to participate in Lent are directed toward rooting our lives in virtue. Seen this way, the season of Lent — and even Easter — takes on a different light.
The pursuit of temperance
We are taught to pursue many things in the world today, but temperance may not be high on the list in the secular sphere. Taking time to fast during Lent and other times throughout the year reminds us that the pursuit of this virtue is a necessary part of Christian living.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines temperance as “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods” (CCC 1809). The Catechism continues: “[Temperance] ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion.”
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Recognizing that desires are not bad, the Church encourages us to pursue the virtue of temperance so that we might experience our desires within the limits of honor — or rather, as God intended. It is through the pursuit of this virtue in seasons like Lent that we strengthen our wills to use all created goods well.
Daily Christian living
Fasting from certain foods, social media or TV, or types of speech (like gossip or cussing) reminds us that chipping away at vices is necessary for Christian living, no matter the season. To live as a Christian requires that we throw off our old selves and begin each day anew in the Holy Spirit. While Lent gives us a set of consecutive days to take up this spirit of sacrifice, we are not meant to stop sacrificing when Lent ends.
Choosing small sacrifices frequently as a Christian strengthens our resolve for the harder crosses we have to bear — the ones we don’t choose. While choosing to go without TV or chocolate may not seem like much, exercising our will toward a life of virtue purifies our intentions and directs us to God’s purpose for us. Having made sacrifices along the way, we prepare ourselves to take up our cross and follow him when a discomfort or hardship comes along.
Feasting is not binging
In a culture where binging is socially acceptable in many ways (Netflix and chill, anyone?), fostering a habit of fasting is meant to remind us that feasting after fasting is not the same thing as binging. Both fasting and feasting are ways for us to unite our lives to Christ.
God created us as embodied souls. How we treat our bodies matters for our spiritual lives, just as we take care of our souls in how we nourish our bodies. Beyond any diet, health fad or habit of consumption, a life rooted in Christ should inform our decisions in regard to both fasting and feasting.
God’s plan for us is the experience of desires and fulfillment within his unlimited goodness. In calling us to fast, pray and give alms, the Church invites us into a blueprint for lives of virtue and the deep experience of God’s plan for us.
Both Lent and Easter are special times of the year that call us deeper into God’s love. As Lent comes to an end and our minds naturally shift to the joy of Easter, let us remember that sacrifice and joy are two sides of the same coin when it comes to life in Christ.