Follow usTwitterFacebook


25 Nov 2015 Middle East - Africa News Comments (1)

LIVE: Pope Francis arrives in Kenya - Watch

Watch a Live coverage of the Pope's arrival in Nairobi (Kenya) at the start of his papal visit to Africa

Read more

24 Dec 2014 Q&A No comments

May a couple who marry in the Church, divorce, and later reconcile resume marital relations?

Full Question A husband and wife are validly married in the Catholic Church, and after several years get a civil divorce, never seek an annulment, live cha…

Read more

09 Nov 2014 Q&A No comments

Is there a difference between a presider and a celebrant?

Full Question I've recently seen places in the missalette where it lists celebrant and presider. Doesn't it mean priest or deacon? What do these really mea…

Read more

23 Sep 2015 News USA No comments

Previewing the Pope at the United Nations: a call to abandon no one

In his much anticipated speech at the United Nations headquarters to be delivered Friday, Pope Francis will likely call on the countries of the world not to aba…

Read more

02 Sep 2016 Uncategorized No comments

Archbishop of Canterbury to join Pope Francis in marking 30 years since Assisi

Religious leaders will participate in a three-day event celebrating the first World Day of Prayer The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, will join Pope Fr…

Read more

21 Oct 2015 News Vatican No comments

Sir James MacMillan to compose work for Fátima anniversary

The celebration in 2017 will be attended by Pope Francis Composer Sir James MacMillan has been commissioned by the Shrine of Fátima to write a work for the s…

Read more

31 May 2016 USA Vatican No comments

Pope appoints pastor as new auxiliary bishop for Philadelphia Archdiocese

Mgr Edward Deliman's appointment was announced by the apostolic nuncio to the United States Pope Francis has named Mgr Edward Deliman, who is a priest of the P…

Read more

17 Dec 2015 News USA No comments

A combined Plea of Intervention for Persecuted Christians

On Tuesday, December 15th, the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops had a joint meeting and have sent an appeal to Stéphane …

Read more

20 Oct 2015 News Vatican No comments

Why the Synod of Bishops is more than Rock’em Sock’em Robots

When you talk to people taking part in the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the family and ask where things stand, one observation you’ll often hear is that public impr…

Read more
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

I Gave It Up for Lent

Ash Wednesday makes me think twice about something: the common practice among Catholics of each person’s selecting his own private sacrifice to observe during this holy season. Mom gives up TV while her teenage son gives up xBox. Little sister gives up chocolate, and Dad gives up red wine. You can see one problem already: Dad is going to be tempted to spiritual pride since his is the only real sacrifice! (That’s a joke, chocolate lovers.)

As my pastor pointed out this morning, none of our sacrifices are worth the effort if the intention that drives them is not the correct one. Father Edward Leen, very likely my favorite spiritual writer (I strongly recommend his In the Likeness of Christ), points out that our service to God “consists not in our actions and doings but in the mode of our actions and doings. Our service consists not in what we do, but in the spirit in which we do it.” The secret of life, Fr. Leen declares, is doing all that we do out of love for Jesus Christ.

There is another concern, perhaps, about the practice of each person’s selecting selecting his own private mortification: the practice has tends to individualism, an attitude or state of mind for which Americans, especially, need to be on guard.

While everyone’s choosing his or her own Lenten sacrifice is not as bad as a Catholic university president’s welcoming heretics to thefaculty in the name of individual expression, we can see how individualism can lead toward chaos.

The best defense against chaos is unity, which word has the same root as universal, which, as any Catholic grammar school child of my father’s generation could tell you, is what “Catholic” means.

And when my father was a child, all practicing Catholics observed the same rules for fasting and abstaining throughout Lent. These prescriptions were not inconsiderable (look them up in the front of a 1962 missal), but they were designed to help us conquer the passions that try to take over our hearts and fog our minds. They were given from the top down for those of us—myself, chief among them—who would seek some easier course.

And they were given to all so that in and by their common practice all were more closely united in the Mystical Body of Christ.

A couple of years ago, the American bishops opened discussion concerning a more universal application of Friday abstinence throughout the whole year.  In the memory of not a few folks reading this blog, there was a time when Catholics were the curious folks who abstained from meat on all Fridays, not simply those of Lent. Indeed, Catholics once stood so apart from the general culture that their power to influence it was immense: a once-thriving parochial school system and the control that the Legion of Decency exercised on the motion picture industry are two examples.

No age is perfect, and I think it’s fair to say that the martyrs who transformed Rome in Christ would certainly have a thing or two to show pre-conciliar American Catholics about transforming a culture, but I am afraid that Catholics have come so far from unity that a united front seems very unlikely, whether it unites against Islamic terror or the moral decay of our unbelieving age.

More than a century ago, Pope Leo XIII anticipated what many Catholics today seem not to see: the effects of individualism on the Church. Nonetheless, we are really not so far from the age when everyone gave up the same thing for Lent and on the same days.

There are yet places where one can see the uniting effects of common mortifications, customs, and practices. Two communities that are dear to me are the Benedictines of Mary Queen of Apostles near Kansas City and St. Michael’s Abbey of the Norbertine Friars, just up the road from us in Southern California. If you ever are able to spend some time among either community, you will see how a life of common song, mortification, practice, and worship creates a Christian solidarity that very much can stand against the storm of our time as the “sign of contradiction” our Lord charges us to be.

Here at Catholic Answers, we work hard to create an environment of common life. For example, we begin our days with Holy Mass in our chapel, every afternoon we recite the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and on Tuesdays we have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Periodically we make a retreat together. A common prayer life strengthens our common effort to do the good work of the apostolate.

There is no good reason why all the laity of the Church today cannot enjoy the same unity and solidarity that a few communities and apostolates do. A more earnest revival of common Lenten practices would be a first and also a great step in that direction. To that end, we should strive to make the Stations of the Cross at our parishes each Friday, for example, and we should work alongside our fellow Christians in performing works of mercy. And if more common use of the fasting and abstinence practices of just a half century ago made a comeback, Catholic unity and solidarity might very well also.

Written By Christopher Check




  1. Sophie Reply

    Is it really necessary to criticize Americans? There’s plenty of good amongst us. And then you pat yourselves on the back for being such a holy group on holy days.

  2. Thomas R Reply

    I would think the kind of “individualism” criticized doesn’t mean anything that is done as an individual or unique to an individual. The church has had hermits from time immemorial. We are individuals. Catholicism isn’t like say certain forms of Hinduism where we merge into a “world soul” with all individuality extinguished.

    I thought the “individualism” criticized by the church is more the individual living for the self-interest of the individual or determining its morals on its own. So more like egoism and subjectivism.

    That I radically reduce the time I spend online during Lent doesn’t mean I’m not also in unity on fasting from meats on Fridays in Lent. Or doing something extra every Friday.

Leave a Reply

  1. most read post
  2. Most Commented
  3. Choose Categories