From the Pastor – February 14, 2021

Brothers and sisters, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.  (1 Cor. 10:31)

It’s too bad that this year we won’t be able to gather in front of our church as we watch parades!  But I’m sure we’ll all figure out some way to celebrate Mardi Gras.  And that’s not a bad thing.  Fat Tuesday is meant to be a time of feasting in preparation for the fasting and austerity of Lent.

But that doesn’t mean that Lent is a “holy” season and Mardi Gras is a “pagan” season.  As St. Paul tells us above, everything should be done for the glory of God.

A recent article in the Times Picayune had a question asked the question:  “What vices are you giving up for Lent?”  And then it listed a long list of “vices,” including among them “meat” and “alcohol.”  Now it’s certain that excessive drinking and obesity are unhealthy, but can we call meat and alcohol “vices”?  Of course not. The word “vice” comes from the Latin word vitium, and it’s commonly defined as “an immoral or evil habit or practice.”  A vice is the opposite of a virtue.  But if alcohol and meat are vices, then Jesus committed vices by drinking wine and eating the Paschal Lamb.  And that’s absurd.

Mardi Gras isn’t a season to “give up vices.”  Our entire lives are devoted to giving up vices!  The inspiration for Lent comes from Jesus having gone into the desert prior to His temptation by the devil.  In the desert Jesus emulated Elijah and Moses who each fasted for forty days.  It was a time of spiritual preparation prior to a great struggle.  But Jesus didn’t go out into the desert to give up “vices.”  He gave up good earthly things – food and water – so that He could focus on the things of Heaven.

Alcohol and meat in moderation are good.  And when we give up things that are “good,” we learn to resist temptation.  And strengthening our ability to resist temptation allows us to battle against vices on a daily basis.

You might also hear people telling you that they don’t want to “give up” anything during Lent; they want to use it as a time to “do some good.”  And that’s exactly what the Catholic Church teaches.  For centuries, the three great practices that the Church has advocated for Lent are: (1) prayer, (2) fasting, and (3) almsgiving.  These spiritual practices allow us to participate with God in making our world a place of justice and peace.  Prayer is ordered to a relationship of justice and peace with God.   Fasting is ordered to justice and peace within ourselves.  And alms-giving is ordered to justice and peace with others, especially those who are poor.  And when we live lives that are ordered toward justice and peace, we move away from immoral thoughts, words and actions.  We naturally avoid vices.

And there’s another problem with the thought that Lent is a season to “give up vices.”  What happens when Lent is over?  Do we return to our “vices”?  Of course not. Have a Holy Lent, and don’t get your theology from the newspaper!  Our lives should always be directed to the glory of God – reaching for virtue and avoiding vices.

(Rev. Msgr.) Christopher H. Nalty