I was determined to make Lent count this year. I'd been feeling myself drifting a little. The penitential season begins by reducing you to nothing - the key phrase of Ash Wednesday is "you are dust and to dust you shall return". By extension, it is a time where you can rebuild yourself from nothingness.
I had decided to use the season for a real challenge: to purge myself of impure thoughts and deeds for the 40+ days of Lent. This was fortified by getting to Mass at least twice a week and attending confession once a week. I chose to keep a Lenten diary which would be separate from my day to day diary. Reviewing it has been instructive.
|Our Lady Help of Christians church, East Brunswick, Victoria, Australia|
It was, however, not the only thing I gained. Another insight I found was how much sin, at least, where fleshly desires are concerned, stems from boredom or having unused spare time (or both). Certainly, it was in idle moments that I found myself most sorely tempted. On the other hand, on quite a few days my Lenten diary read "too busy to sin!" when I'd been fully occupied at work or otherwise. In one of my Dad's favourite phrases: "an idle mind is the Devil's workshop". And when nothing else worked, the intercession of St Agnes and St Maria Goretti never once failed me.
|Skull of St Agnes (image credit: Michaelphillipr)|
But wait: there's more. Making this commitment to keep fleshly desire under control gave me an utterly unexpected clarity about my (not entirely voluntary) celibacy. For one thing, after the first few days, I realised how freeing it was not to be under the dominion of my own body. I realised how much safer I felt with my brain, rather than my instincts, in charge. In the last few weeks, I came to realise how little I'd ever actually enjoyed "fleshly pursuits". And on 17 April, I began to wonder if I might, in fact, be one of these people (this last is a good deal less interesting than it might otherwise be, given my state in life: practically, it is about as interesting as learning one has A+ type blood).
Finally, I think that at some level this feeling of committment made it possible for me to look at the tragic burning of Notre Dame cathedral with less pain than I might have otherwise had. It is, indeed, a tragic and shattering loss, but I also found myself thinking: this is our chance to build something even more to the glory of God.
Some denominations spurn observing Lent. This is a pity. I can say from experience that setting yourself this challenge has brought blessings I never even knew I wanted.