As Lent approached this year, Catholic writers around the world helped us to prepare by reminding us of the fundamentals of the faith. This after all, is one of the purposes of Lent. Lent is a liturgical return of our attention to the fundamentals of the Christian life.
The first duty of religion is to worship God, to love Him with the entirety of ourselves. The traditional acts of religion that form the pathway fostering this loving worship are: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
In years past, it was not uncommon to hear Lenten advice along the lines that one need not choose the penitential practice of fasting for one’s Lenten observance. One might choose something else, perhaps service to the poor instead.
This approach to Lent usually came from those whose approach to the faith was as though it were something of a smorgasbord. It has been somewhat surprising then, to note that this year similar advice has been offered by writers who usually take a more integral approach to the Catholic faith.
Perhaps a review of the purpose of the Christian life, the part that Lent plays and how acts of religion foster the Christian life would be of help.
Since the Second Vatican Council, the Magisterium has returned our attention to the universal Christian vocation to holiness. St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and, in his folksy style, Pope Francis have emphasized this in the manner of an increasingly shrill clarion call. Yet, holiness is often times misunderstood to be something negative such as somberness or elitism. For those who understand its Biblical foundation (e.g. “Strive for … [that] holiness without which no one will see the Lord” [Heb 12:14]) nevertheless, can look upon it as some unattainable ideal.
Yet, holiness is nothing other than Christian perfection, it is the measure by which we have perfected our love for God and neighbor. As the epistle to the Hebrews indicates, only those who achieve this perfection will see God.
The acts of religion are the sine qua non for reaching this perfection. Together they form one, integral pathway home. Each serves a distinct purpose, but they work together. Without each of them, our restless hearts will never find the peace for which they search. The acts of religion form the introductory curriculum in the school of Christian perfection. In our next article, we will look at the role that Lent plays in this school.