This Wednesday, Feb. 10, is Ash Wednesday, marking the start of the penitential season of Lent for 2016. In place of a column this week, Archbishop Charles Chaput offers responses to a series of questions posed by CatholicPhilly.com and Catholic News Agency (CNA).
CatholicPhilly/CNA: How could Catholics live this Lenten season as a really special time and not just as a “Catholic tradition?”
Archbishop Chaput: We need to understand that the materialism of modern life, the constant modern emphasis on buying and consuming, is based on the falsehood that we “deserve” convenience and comfort; that our opinions and desires really matter. Of course, in the most important sense, we do matter. We’re infinitely precious in the eyes of God. But the world will forget us very quickly when we’re gone, and all of us will be gone sooner than we think. There are no exceptions. So the healthiest way for each of us to live Lent is to reflect on our mortality and take a hard, clear look at the behavior and choices that guide our typical day. If we don’t like some of what we see — and that should include every one of us, if we’re honest — then Lent is the time to begin changing our direction.
CatholicPhilly/CNA: How can Catholics be “creative” in the way they live their Lent as a time for conversion?
Archbishop Chaput: We need to think past the obvious things to “give up” — desserts, wine, the movies — and concentrate on those things we cling to that we don’t really need but like to indulge. It’s different for every person: shopping, restaurants, coffee, etc. But even better is when we select some positive service to perform for another person, or volunteer where our time is needed by our parish or charity. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy are a great place to begin our Lenten reflections. We should adapt them to our circumstances and make a real effort to live them actively as we prepare for Easter. And of course, some daily time spent reading Scripture is always very fruitful.
CatholicPhilly/CNA: From your pastoral experience, what do you think U.S. Catholics need the most to make of Lent a genuine time of conversion?
Archbishop Chaput: The single most important thing we can do, especially in this Year of Mercy, is to seek out the Sacrament of Penance on a regular basis; every other week would be ideal. Nearly everyone can do that if they try. Nothing has a more powerful and positive effect on the soul, other than the Eucharist itself. And we also need silence. If people can create some time every day — even just half an hour — when they eliminate all the distracting noise of American life, their spirit will naturally begin to grow. Daily life in the United States is so filled with appetites and tensions stimulated by the mass media that turning the media off almost automatically results in deeper and clearer thinking. And that interior quiet can very easily lead us to God.
CatholicPhilly/CNA: Do you find any relationship between living a good Lent and how Catholics live in the public square?
Archbishop Chaput: If you want to know how hard it can be to live a Christian life, just try overcoming one or two of your own worst faults. That takes self-knowledge, persistence, honesty, humility, courage — and this is exactly the task of conversion that all of us are called to every Lent. All of these virtues also underpin effective public witness. If you take your faith seriously enough to conform your own life to it, you’ll have very little trouble living and witnessing your faith in the presence of others, including the wider public square. In an election year – especially one that’s already so complicated – authentic Catholic witness is something the nation needs more than ever. That witness begins with each of us individually.