I love Lent. So do most Catholics, I suspect, even though we grumble about it. We complain because we want the chocolate (or coffee or TV or whatever), but we’re secretly pleased when we resist the temptation to indulge.
Now, I have friends who rush to judgment right there. They say that all asceticism is futile (or worse) because it leads to pride in personal achievement, and pride is chief among the deadly sins.
I grant that pride is always a real danger. We can indeed become proud of our fasting. But we can just as easily take pride in our refusal to fast. Pride is like the anvil in an old Warner Brothers cartoon. It’s somehow always just above us, ready to fall the remaining distance.
But I’ll go a little further here. I’ll say that our affection for Lent, most of the time, comes not from pride, but rather from satisfaction. When we make our Lenten sacrifices, we’re doing something for the sake of love. And doesn’t love demand that we do something?
Think of young couples, newly in love. (I’ll speak only for men, because that’s what I know.) Young men stay up late doing things they ordinarily wouldn’t be caught dead doing. They write poems. They bare their hearts. They talk about their feelings. They even miss meals so they can be near their beloved. As difficult as these things are, they leave us with a sense of fulfillment.
Lent satisfies us in a similar way. It’s designed to be a time of growth, and we grow through our Lenten exercises. Growth is a sign of life, and in Lent we know we’re alive.
Yes, we grow through the pains of fasting and self-denial. But we should also grow through positive action. As we loosen our grip on worldly things, we should also make the most of our freedom. We should take positive steps toward the Lord Jesus.
The things we do for Lent are certainly pleasing to Our Lord. When he preached his great manifesto, the Sermon on the Mount, he told us to pray, fast, and give alms; and he even told us how to do these things and how not to do them. He said, “When you fast. … When you give alms. …” Not “If you fast” or “If you give alms.”
He assumed we would do as he said — and as he did. He would not deny us the chance to be godlike in our self-denial.
It’s nothing to be proud of. It’s all a grace from God. But it’s OK to be pleased with it. When you feel that way, you’re experiencing a satisfaction that’s both natural and supernatural. It goes well with love.
Lent is almost over. Now make the most of what remains. You’ll love these days even more than the days just passed.