Life as a Long Lenten Fast

The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them; then on that day they will fast. (Mark 2:20)

The days when the bridegroom is taken from us have now come. He has not been entirely taken taken from us; he is really, truly, and substantially present, but in a hidden way. We wait for Him to come again, and celebrate the definitive wedding feast. St. Benedict tells us that our whole lives should be a Lenten fast, awaiting the Easter of eternal life, but since in our weakness we are unable to fast always, we should at least use the holy forty days to separate ourselves from attachment to earthly things, and long with holy joy for the coming of the bridegroom:

Although the life of a monk ought at all times have the aspect of Lenten observance, yet, since few have strength enough for this, we exhort all during these days of Lent to lead lives of the greatest purity, and to atone during this holy season for all the negligences of other times. This we shall do in a worthy manner if we refrain ourselves from all sin and give ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart, and to abstinence. Therefore during these days let us add something to our ordinary burden of service, such as private prayers or abstinence from food and drink, so that each one may offer up to God in the joy of the Holy Ghost something over and above the measure appointed to him: that is, let him deny his body in food, in drink, in sleep, in superfluous talking, in mirth, and withal long for the holy feast of Easter with the joy of spiritual desire.

6 thoughts on “Life as a Long Lenten Fast

  1. How does one fight sloth, despair, apathy, and malice? I thought that prayer might do the trick, but what if, due to these vices, one cannot even pray?

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  2. What if I worded my problem like this:

    All my life, I cannot remember a time where I resisted my passions as a whole. I’ve always resisted this or that passion, mind you, but never the passion as such. Instead, I’ve resisted as passion by means of another, stronger passion.

    I find now that I conceive Grace to be a sort of passion. I find myself seeing Grace as a passion that will perpel me to doing good and overshadow the disordered passions.

    I’m not sure how to, practically speaking, “force” myself against the passions that drag me into mortal sin, and the passion that keep me away from prayer.

    Does this make sense?

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    • That’s an interesting way of putting it. The passions are like horses: useful when under the control of reason, but dangerous when out of control. Virtue consists in bringing the passions under the control of reason, by means of habituation. Of course there is a certain paradox here that Aristotle points out:

      By abstaining from pleasures we become temperate, and it is when we have become so that we are most able to abstain from them; and similarly too in the case of courage; for by being habituated to despise things that are terrible and to stand our ground against them we become brave, and it is when we have become so that we shall be most able to stand our ground against them.

      That is, it is by resisting disordered passion that one becomes virtuous, but one needs virtue to resist them in the first place.

      Healing grace helps us in a number of ways: it gives us more elevated principles of action such as faith and charity, which enable reason and the will to do things they would otherwise not be able to do, but it also helps us bring the passions under the control of reason-elevated-by-faith. I strongly reccomend Garrigou-Lagrange’s books on the Three Ages on this point. Here is one passage:

      Little by little the light of reason and the superior light of infused faith must descend into our sensible appetites that they may not be like those of an animal without reason, but those of a rational being, of a child of God, who shares in the intimate life of the Most High. We should direct our thoughts to Christ’s sensible appetites, which were pure and strong because of the virtues of virginity, patience, and constancy even to the death of the cross.(7) Let us also think of the sensibility of Mary, Virgin most pure and Mother of Sorrows, coredemptress of the human race. We shall thus see how our sensible appetites ought to be ever more and more subjected to our intellect illumined by faith, to our will vivified by charity, and how the light and living flame of the spirit ought to radiate over our emotions to sanctify them and place them at the service of God and of our neighbor. St. Paul exhorts us, saying: “Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep.” (8) This is characteristic of the saints; they manifest admirable delicacy of feeling for the afflicted; at times they alone can find words which uplift and fortify. From this point of view, the passions must be moderated, not materially but proportionately to what reason requires in relation to a more or less lofty given end to be reached in given circumstances. Thus, without sinning, a person may experience great sadness, great fear, or lively indignation in certain grave circumstances. We read in Exodus II that Moses, seeing the Israelites adoring the golden calf, crushed this idol to dust and punished with great severity those who were most guilty. In the First Book of Kings,(10) the priest Heli is reprimanded for not having become indignant at the evil conduct of his sons. On the road to perfection, those who are naturally meek must become strong, and those who are naturally inclined to be strong-willed must become gentle. Both are climbing toward the summit by different slopes. To drive a horse well, now the bit must be used, and now the whip; the same applies to the governing of the passions. At times they must be checked, and at other times awakened, jolted, in order to react against sloth, inertia, timidity, or fear. At times a great effort is required to break an impetuous horse; the same is true of disciplining certain temperaments capable of great things. How beautiful it is to see these temperaments transformed by the profound impress of a Christian character after ten or fifteen years of self-discipline! With a view to the interior life, one must be particularly attentive, above all at the beginning, to a special point: that is, to be on guard against precipitation and also against the dominant passion, that it may not become a predominant fault. As we have already spoken of the predominant fault, we here insist on precipitation to be avoided or, as the expression goes, on impulsiveness, which inclines one to act without sufficient reflection. With rash haste many beginners, otherwise very good, at times wish to make too rapid progress, more rapid than their degree of grace warrants. They desire to travel rapidly because of a certain unconscious presumption; then, when trial comes, they sometimes let themselves be cast down at least for a moment. This condition is similar to what happens also in young students at the beginning of their curiosity in their work; when it is satisfied or when application becomes too painful, negligence and sloth follow. As a matter of fact, the happy medium of virtue, which is at the same time a summit above two opposing vices, like strength above temerity and cowardliness, is not attained immediately. Properly speaking, what is precipitation? St. Thomas (11) defines it as a manner of acting by impulsion of the will or of the passion, without prudence, precaution, or sufficient consideration. It is a sin directly opposed to prudence and the gift of counsel. It leads to temerity in judgment and is comparable to the haste of one who descends a staircase too rapidly and falls, instead of walking composedly. From the moral point of view, one should descend in a thoughtful manner from reason, which determines the end to be attained, to the operations to be accomplished without neglecting the steps that intervene, that is, the memory of things past, intelligent attention to present circumstances, shrewdness in foreseeing obstacles that may arise, docility in following authorized advice. One must take time to deliberate before acting; “one should deliberate slowly and without haste,” as Aristotle used to say. Afterward one must sometimes act with great promptness. If, on the contrary, a person is inclined to action by the impulse of the will or of the passion, while neglecting the intervening steps we have just mentioned, the memory of the past, attention to the present, foresight of the future, and docility, such a person stumbles and falls. This is inevitable. What are the causes of precipitation? As spiritual writers say, this defect comes from the fact that we substitute our own natural activity for the divine action. We act with feverish ardor, without sufficient reflection, without prayer for the light of the Holy Ghost, without the advice of our spiritual director. At times this natural haste is the cause of extremely imprudent acts that are very harmful in their results

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