By: Msng. De Segur, Thomas A Kempis, Rev. Joseph Dehare S.J. and others
+ Imprimatur 1900
Ah! this is quite a melancholy subject, and you would prefer that it should not be forced upon your attention. It is unpleasant enough when Lent comes, and in the mean time the less said about the better. Ever unwelcome is this holy season, and all, with the exception of a few fervent Christians, appear to regard the forty days with a feeling of vexation which almost amounts to resentment.
But with our forefathers it was not so. Full of faith, they drew from their firm belief powerful motives for energy, perseverance, and good will. They rightly estimated duty; they recognized its grandeur; and they placed the sacred laws of God and of His Church far above the vain pretexts to which our self-indulgence so often sacrifices them.
Our forefathers observed in every detail the commands of the Church which regard to fasting and abstinence; every one abstained on Fridays and Saturdays. Men did not study themselves and pamper themselves as they do now; this may be proved by the fact that at Paris in the fifteenth century, in spirit of a population of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants, only one butcher sold meat during Lent, and supplied all that was required by killing a single ox a day. They fasted the whole of Lent, and no one died from the effects. Neither did they suffer, for populations were far more flourishing, and men taller and stinger than now. "But can it be," you say, "that God requires bodily mortification instead of heartfelt repentance?" To which we answer simply that God requires both, because heartfelt repentance is ever united to bodily mortification. The soul influences the body, and the body reacts upon the soul, because of their intimate union; a body that is indulged will sooner or later impart its own feebleness to the soul, its constant companion; and a soul pure and upright, and victorious over its passions, will necessarily hold the soul in perfect discipline and subjection. The body, from the fatal results of original sin, is in constant rebellion against the soul; and the soul must therefore treat it almost as an enemy, and be ever on its guard against it, and order to insure its own independence, its fidelity to God, and its eternal salvation.
"But why should such a disagreeable means of doing penance be chosen?" And why should it not be chosen? The Church has chosen it -1st. Because it is sufficiently disagreeable to constitute a penance, and not too hardtop be practiced by all Christians. 2d. Out of reverence for the Apostles, who instituted Lent. 3d. Because such is her will, and we must all, without any exception, respect her choice and submit to her commandment.
To obey the laws of the Church is to obey Jesus Christ; to violate her laws is to neglect them, to regard them as trifles, - is to despise, to neglect, and to disobey Jesus Christ. Is this a little fault?
"I desire to obey God rather than men, and the Pope and the Bishops are men." Yes, but men vested with divine authority, so that it is God Himself who speaks, commands, instructs, sanctifies, forbids, and governs by the lips of those whom He has sent.
"And shall God condemn me for a little meat?" No; but, for the disobedience, which is all the more guilty in proportion as the law imposed is simple and easy to fulfill. Is it not utter folly to offend God for such a little thing? A man who could have fasted and abstained, yet would not, shall stand without excuse before the tribunal of his God.
"But I cannot fast or abstain; it makes me ill." Is that quite true? Remember that it is God who must judge. If your health is really too weak, the law is not for you; the Church desires to make us do penance, and not to make us ill; she desires to deprive us of superfluous, but not necessary, food; but, as regards what is necessary make no mistake; consult your doctor, and still more your confessor; he is the doctor of the divine law, and is gifted with grace to make it clear.
Those who have very hard work, or are extremely poor, may always obtain a dispensation, since no one can live without sufficient food.
"But it is exceedingly tiresome and disagreeable to fast!"
And this last and most feeble excuse is generally at the root of the whole matter, and should be urged first instead of last. "It is unpleasant to fulfill my city, and therefore I will not fulfill it." Be it so; but I warn you; make ready to travel on the road to hell, for your face is turned in that direction. Whoever fails to fulfill his city lives in sin; and he who lives in sin shall receive, as an inevitable consequence, that eternal punishment of which Our Lord speaks so often in the Gospel, warning us to avoid at any price its inconceivable pain!
For my own part, I find it less difficult to keep the Lenten fast year after year, and to abstain on Friday, than to suffer forever in hell. Every one is free to choose.