March 5, 2011

Theses on Choosing Lenten Observances

I wrote these up a couple of Lents ago, but I think they are still helpful in our discernment of how we may enter into this 'joyful season.'

1. The classic practices of fasting, praying, and giving alms are the best starting point. Concentrate on one or do something for each.

2. Make it too challenging and be set up for failure; make it too easy and lose interest.

3. All spiritual practices can be misused to focus on self rather than God. Be careful.

4. 'Giving up' something that is already objectively sinful doesn't count; ascetical effort at reorganizing our lives to eliminate occasions of sin does.

5. Spiritual practice and prayerful ascesis that also serves physical health is nothing to be ashamed of.

6. Everyone knows that Sundays don't count, but don't make the Sunday relaxation an occasion of backsliding.

7. Doing something is easier than not doing something.

8. Doing something for others is more blessed than doing something for yourself. But if you have a tendency to neglect spiritual self-care, this principle isn't an excuse to continue.

9. Pelagianism is a heresy, but the idea of it is not an excuse for laziness.

10. The engineering principle known as the 'airplane rule' is useful here: complexity increases the rate of failure. Conversely, simplicity increases robustness.

11. Secret practices are better than ones that will be obvious to everyone. Secret saves us from both vainglory in success and embarrassment in failure.

12. Succeeding in observing a practice does not mean it was a spiritual success, and failing does not necessarily mean spiritual failure. Successes used poorly can be spiritually ruinous, and failures used well can be providential occasions for learning humility and honesty.

13. Concrete is better than vague.

14. This is not about our doing or accomplishing something, as if salvation were another thing for us to do or get. It is about surrendering and responding to grace. As Paul says, "God is the one who, for his good purpose, works in you both to desire and to work." (Philippians 2:13)


Anonymous said...

Good post. They all seem like good advice. I am a little confused on #4's "objectively sinful" though

Brother Charles said...

Thanks anonymous. Some things are sins no matter what, and some things may be occasions of sins for some folks and not for others.

So, I can't say I'm giving up adultery for Lent, because it's always a sin.

On the other hand, take something like alcohol. It might be an occasion of sin for one person and not another. In the latter case, it might be a great choice for something to fast from.

Kate said...

This being the first lent I'm celebrating, I appreciate this tips. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

and this year seems especially difficult for me to figure out what to do this lent! thank you for this post.... God bless yoy

Sara said...

Kate, last Lent was the first I celebrated. Enjoy the ride. :)

Anonymous said...

BC: "objectively sinful" now makes sense. Thanks for the explanation.

Louis M said...

Thanks, Father.

May God bless you, His Church, Pope Benedict and Pope X this Lenten season.