Mastery Over the Passions

“What are you giving up this Lent?” Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, and prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are traditionally practiced over the next forty days. We give up meat on Fridays while fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but many Catholics also practice an additional form of fasting from something such as candy, or desserts, or coffee. I never really understood why. When people asked me what I was giving up, I always would tell them that my Lenten resolution was to spend more time in prayer, or go to daily Mass. To me, that would make me MUCH holier than giving up chocolate! And honestly, it wasn’t just some excuse so I could stuff my face with cake and laugh while my friends watched miserably. I think it was because I’d since outgrown the ‘sugar-phase’ every child goes through, and giving up candy just wasn’t that hard anymore. It didn’t really mean that much to me. Nevertheless, I had somewhat lost the understanding of fasting. Because the point of fasting isn’t some external show of going through the motions. Through the sacrifice of fasting, we learn self mastery and self control over the appetites. And what’s true in small things carries over into big things. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, fasting is the guardian of chastity, and it holds true. Fasting strengthens the virtue of temperance, and the more we master temperance in the area of food and drink, the more temperance we gain against lust. If we can’t practice self-denial when it comes to food, it will only be an uphill battle when it comes to saying no to our sexual appetites. Fasting frees us from a certain bondage to the material things. And when we are no longer enslaved to the senses, we discover a freedom, and virtue is not so difficult as the world tells us. So for me, giving up candy is easy. Pick something hard, like drinking water with your meals or giving up cappuccino from your favorite coffee place. And for heaven’s sake, offer it up! When you grit your teeth and walk past Starbucks, or when your stomach is growling because you’re not eating between meals yet your friends are devouring mouthwatering hors d’oeuvres, offer it up for a specific person or intention. Because it’s infinitely more worthwhile (and much more motivating) to offer it up for your future husband – or wife. Virtue doesn’t come without effort. By definition, virtue is a disposition to do the good easily, joyfully, and promptly. Develop virtue in small things, because as with anything, what we do in small things carries over to how we act in important situations.

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