Lent is about fasting, praying, and giving alms that we might better be united to Christ. Tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday where we eat all the stuff left in our house that we can't have in Lent. "Shrove" comes from shrive: to impose a form of penance upon a penitent. We typically eat pancakes that day and start fasting the next day, Ash Wednesday. Lent is a full 40 day period. This means the required abstaining and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Fridays in Lent are a minimum, but to live the whole season, we'll need to consider every Monday through Saturday as part of a fast. What's more, we should consider our celebrations on Sundays and relaxing of the fast as a part of Lent, for they reorder Sundays for us, reminding us of their inherit celebratory nature, and how we ought always celebrate them as such.
How do we prepare for Lent?
One way is to start by aiming at virtues. For instance if you want to cultivate the Moral Virtues, see last week's article on how to do this. However, our sins typically blind our judgment, and for this reason Peter, John the Baptist, and Christ himself all tell us the first move is to "Repent." Repent comes from metanoia, meaning to "change your mind" or "change your way/path." Thus we can't actually start by aiming at virtue. We start with our sin, because God reveals to us that's how we must start. Instead of whining about it, let's get along with the work so that we can then move on to the conversation about virtue.
I'm using the definitions from St. Augustine's Prayerbook from the Self-Examination section. I highly recommend it. It is an old Anglo-Catholic Prayerbook to identify the Seven Deadly Sins. A Catholic version of this is in the works, coming out later this month I believe, called St. Gregory's Prayerbook. I'm then using the traditional virtues that oppose each, but also locating them within the Seven Virtues (Theological and Cardinal Virtues). I'm also using some St. Thomas Aquinas for naming and defining minor virtues and vices.
The way to use this to prepare for Lent is to identify your Deadly Sin. See the opposed virtue, see which of the major Seven Virtues it is or is filed under, then imagine practices that cultivate that virtue. By knowing the minor virtue you can pinpoint your attack on your vices more accurately then you can by only knowing the general virtue. E.g. chastity and abstaining are both forms of temperance, and both will help with passions of gluttony and lust in general, but chastity attacks lust more specifically and abstaining attacking gluttony more specifically. I.e. wood stakes might work on vampires, but only silver bullets work on werewolves. If you're going to do supernatural combat you'll want to know what your demons are if you're going to defeat them with the aid of Christ. By practicing the virtues, the sin is defeated, for light and darkness cannot co-exist, one will always drive out the other.
Definition: is putting self in the place of God as the center and objective of our life, or of some department thereof. It is the refusal to recognize our status as creatures, dependent on God for our existence, and placed by him in a specific relationship to the rest of his creation.
Opposed Virtue is Humility: seeing oneself not as too low or too high, but exactly as we are.
Humility is a form of Justice: doing what you ought to do.
Practices: stop getting attention by bragging or by false humility, step up to do things you're capable and the best or one of the best to do, stop stepping up for things above your head.
Definition: is dissatisfaction with our place in God’s order of creation, manifested in begrudging his gifts and vocations to others.
Opposed Virtue: Kindness: giving for the sake of one's good, above and beyond, extravagant and unnecessary giving out of love
Kindness is a form of Charity: willing the good of another; you combat evil desire to have by giving
Practices: when you desire something someone has and want them to not have it, you should give them something that would be good for that person specifically
Definition: is the refusal to respect the integrity of other creatures, expressed in the inordinate accumulation of material things; in the use of other persons for our personal advantage; or in the quest for status, power or security at their expense.
Opposed Virtue: Liberality, giving someone out of what is yours (charities and programs cant' do this for you, it comes out of your treasure house, not theirs)
Liberality is a form of Justice: doing what you ought to do, for it effects and especially in regards to the poor concerns what is their due from the non-poor
Practices: almsgiving to the poor out of your own bank account, give your second jacket to someone cold, don't give a PB'nJ to the poor but a portion of your lunch or something you would eat
Definition: is the overindulgence of natural appetites for food and drink, and by extension the inordinate quest for pleasure or comfort.
Opposed Virtue: Abstinence, the refraining from created goods that one might learn to better use them in the right context
Abstinence is a form of Temperance: moderates immoderate attraction to created goods
Practices: fast (2 small meals, third not equaling the sum of the two), abstain from meat all Lent, abstain from meat on Fridays and Wednesdays, married couples can abstain from sex on days and spend that time in prayer, etc.
Definition: is the misuse of desire, especially sex, for personal gratification, debasing it from the holy purpose for which God has given it to us.
Opposed Virtue: Chastity, the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being that includes self-mastery (CCC 2337-9)
Chastity is a form of Temperance, moderating immoderate attraction to created goods; lust includes cruelty to animals and bloodlust, a desire for violence not spawned by violence or wrath, but pleasure.
Practices: like Sts. Benedict or Francis throw yourself into the briars when lust comes :) call a friend, go for a walk, pray, read the Scriptures (Mt. 4-12), leave whatever room or place you're in and do something else with purpose. Those who suffer from pornography, put your computer somewhere else, put a password on it after a certain hour, etc.
Definition: is open rebellion against God or our fellow creatures. Its purpose and desire is to eliminate any obstacle to our self-seeking, to retaliate against any threat to our security, to avenge insult or injury to our person.
Opposed Virtue: Patience, that which endures the floods of sorrow for the sake of the good
Patience is a form of Charity, willing the good for God, neighbor, or self. From 1 Cor 13, "Love is kind, love is patient..."
Practices: the old "count to 10," ask questions rather than assume, "disarm" yourself by figuring out how you act out anger then taking away those 'weapons' as options for your actions, whether that's guns or fists or words. Ask someone to keep you accountable to violations of that as an "out of bounds" or "penalty," i.e. friends consider it an "invalid move" in conversation to get angry, pauses everything rather than continuing as always. If your anger includes e-mails, texts, and miscommunication, drop those mediums for Lent.
Definition: is the refusal to respond to our opportunities for growth, service or sacrifice.
Opposed Virtue: Diligence, eagerness to do one's prescribed work well and to its completion
Diligence is a form of Fortitude, a constant and firm will toward the good
Practices: wake up earlier, do work when it comes to mind, cut out your form of laziness (e.g. no social media or long naps or long lunches). Beware, Sloth and Business are not opposites, avoiding major works and filling a day with relatively unimportant or even less important tasks is a form of Sloth. Being perpetually "Busy" is the easiest way to identify Sloth in the Modern World. For those people narrowing down deeds to first things, doing quality work, and working the whole shift are solutions. Labor or exercise after work help procure good levels of energy for the next day. This is a silent killer for Americans; the Medievalists were worried about Avarice, we're worried about Lust, but Sloth is quietly killing us.