From the Pastor – March 6, 2011

And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined. (Mt. 7:26-29)

On Friday, the Lagniappe section of the Times Picayune had a question on the cover: “What vices are you giving up for Mardi Gras?” 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 earthly goods – 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. We don’t build our houses (lives) on the ever-shifting sands of worldly opinion. We build our houses (lives) on rock – the word of Jesus. And when the rain and floods and winds of temptation come from the devil, our house will stand firm. Have a Holy Lent, and don’t get your theology from the newspaper!

Rev. Msgr. Christopher H. Nalty