Some Casual Remarks on Lent

‘Tis the season for every Catholic writer, blogger, and celebrity cleric to remind the faithful about the “true meaning” of Lent and all of the “spiritual riches” which are sure to accompany any number of “disciplines,” ranging from reading more classic Catholic literature to giving up beer in favor of hard liquor for 40 days. For a handful of Eastern Catholics following the Gregorian Calendar, Lent began Sunday evening; they could not eat the paczki. Those Easterners celebrating according to the Julian Calendar still have a bit of time before Great Lent kicks in. The spread this year between Gregorian Easter and Julian Pascha is pretty significant. (March 27 as opposed to May 1.) Perhaps by the time Julian Pascha rolls around, it will actually look a lot like spring outside. For those living in the Midwest, it’ll be a miracle if the temperature gets above 45 at the end of the March with no snow on the ground. As I type this, the white stuff is once again descending upon Michigan, though in far less significant amounts than have hit the rest of the country this winter. For that I am thankful. After spending nearly a decade in Chicago without a car, I can say honestly that my winter driving chops have never fully recovered. Moreover, living in the land where every other person on the road owns either an SUV or a truck and thus believes themselves to be invincible, having an A+ defensive-driving game is necessary for survival.

If I were to recommend two pieces of modest reading during this (or any) season of Lent, it would surely be Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s classic Great Lent and St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Preparation for Death (the lightly abridged, but easy-to-acquire TAN Books edition). They are two works seemingly far apart in spirit (Schmemann: “bright sorrow”; Alphonsus: “hell is nigh”) and yet capable of converging on a single point which, in my mind, is essential for those desiring to have a good Lent (however defined): the renewal of time. That is to say, the renewal of our remaining time on this earth should be at the forefront of our minds during this penitential season, especially since we have wasted so much of it already. Instead of perceiving longer liturgical services or more intensive personal prayer as “boring” or “monotonous” or “burdensome,” perhaps we should ask, “What else would you be doing right now?” Getting into trouble, no doubt.

That’s just one man’s opinion, of course; people can follow their own way (or not) to the Resurrection of Christ. Needless to say, no one else except your confessor and Guardian Angel need know about it. For some, the hardest Lenten discipline of all will be to refrain from telling everyone on social media how “hard” and “challenging” the fast is (assuming they fast at all). Oh, and how I pray that the pope would bestow a plenary indulgence for any who refrain from posting “ash selfies” on Facebook. The next cringe-worthy moment will come in another month when Orthodox take to Twitter to ask forgiveness of all whom they have offended, as if a pixelated rote messaged carries anything near the weight of a genuine face-to-face encounter (or, absent that, a personal message). Ah, but now I sound ornery and perhaps I am to some extent and so I best stop typing soon.

Let me conclude, though, with two pieces of advice concerning Lent I have quoted before, but feel compelled to repeat again. The first, from an Orthodox priest, was more of an observation and went like this: “The devil never rides you harder than during Great Lent.” True, true. The second, from a Catholic cleric, runs roughly as follows: “If you can find one fault—just one fault—and correct that during the 40 days, then you will have had a good Lent.” Indeed.