When leisure hits the snooze button
With Lent having started, it’s time to think about how we are going to observe this season of repentance and transformation. It’s traditional to fast from food as well as add spiritual practices for the 40 days of Lent. But I would like to suggest adding a wrinkle to this year’s journey.
Try choosing a cardinal virtue to work on and use your Lenten practices as a way to grow in this virtue. The cardinal virtues, also referred to as the moral or human virtues, are: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.
St. Augustine gives a succinct explanation of these in his work Of the Morals of the Catholic Church: “To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only [God] (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).”
What makes the cardinal virtues unique to many aspects of the Christian faith is that they are acquired by human effort. They are not gifts given to us by God — like the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) — but they are habits perfected through our own words and deeds. We can do something to grow in prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. The goal of virtue, as St. Gregory of Nyssa puts it, is to become more and more like Jesus (CCC 1803).
This Lent I am choosing the virtue of temperance. For too long I feel like I give in to my whims for pleasure. I eat too much sugar. I stay up too late at night watching mindless television. Many mornings I hit the snooze button three or more times. In and of themselves, these are not evil things, but taken as a whole, and over many years, I have found myself seldom saying ‘no’ to myself. This has led to a lack of discipline in my life.
This lack of discipline causes me to put off doing chores, running needed errands, and exercising regularly. But more importantly this lack of discipline affects my prayer life because, when I do not feel like praying, and I am used to giving in to my whims, I often skip prayer.
For these reasons temperance is the virtue I am working on this Lent. The Catechism defines temperance as “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and…ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable” (CCC 1809).
For me, the key phrases in the above definition are: “moderates attraction to pleasure” and “mastery over instincts and desires.” I have a lot of room to grow in these areas. So, to help me grow in temperance, I am going to skip the snooze button, fast twice a week, have my first activity every morning not be reading the news, but praying the Office of Readings, and only eating dessert when gathered with people.
It is my sincere hope to not have my physical desires control my life, but to take back the gift of free will that God has given me.
Lent is a gift the Church gives us each year. The virtues offer an opportunity to dive deep in this journey from ashes to Easter. Forty days of practice might not make us perfect, but they can make us more virtuous.
If you are interested in taking up one of the cardinal virtues this Lent, you can learn more about each of them in the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church starting at Article 1803.