Inwardly, many of us have been thinking about making a holy Lent and preparing for the mystery of Easter. Lent was originally instituted for the instruction and probation of the catechumens. We would already do well to read books of theology, commentaries on the Holy Scriptures and whatever brings us to remember our university and seminary courses, our knowledge of doctrine. We then have to interiorise all that by prayer and fasting.
Perhaps we are furiously eating up all the meat, butter, animal fat, cooking oil and all the things that make for tasty food. Perhaps we are thinking in more secret and inner terms. It is up to each of us. The important would seem to be keeping our observances to ourselves. The Gospel of Ash Wednesday is explicit. Only hypocrites are ostentatious about their observances.
Other than curbing our appetites and eating more simply – many of us have to anyway because of limited financial means, there are many things we can work on. One is ourselves and our self-understanding. Humility is truth about ourselves, stopping being a caricature of other people or projected images. We accept ourselves as we are, with all our weaknesses and faults. Then we bring the raw material to God with our realistic resolutions, so that we might be transformed.
We especially fast from sin, as we read in many prayers of the liturgy. Some of the worst sins are gossip, detraction and calumny – and we don’t notice them.
We are certainly going to fail and backslide, especially after the first days and if we are excessive. We just pick ourselves up and get back to the grindstone. Whether we are Anglicans, Orthodox or Roman Catholics – or whatever – we have no cause for triumphalism. Let’s keep our piety under our hats, a silent leaven in the desert.
Another rule is common sense – not doing something that will affect our health. If in doubt about something, get medical advice. If we get invited to dinner on a Friday and meat is on the menu, eat it and be thankful. There’s nothing worse than being anti-social and being an absolute jerk with our “religion”. Then, in the secret of our chamber, we can substitute something else. Lent isn’t about mortifying other people.
Our faith is full of signs and symbols, but the most important thing is what’s inside. Failure to understand this aspect of Christianity led to the distortions we find in the institutional churches and the decline we all bewail. How much responsibility for this do we have ourselves? More than we think.
Let’s get the inside scoured out, and then our outward observances will really mean something. If we are going to be serious about this, contemplate these harrowing words in Dom Delatte’s commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict:
“The absence of distractions and diversion entirely delivers us to our suffering. The suffering of contemplatives is like Purgatory: the fire penetrates to the marrow, to the most intimate fibres; it is like food being cooked slowly, the lid on the pot, the steam transforming the food. All the movements become painful, like a man who has had his skin stripped away…”