Speaking to the Catholic News Agency during this, the first week of Lent, Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput said today that Catholics can make the most of their time of preparation for Easter, by thinking past the obvious things to “give up,” by offering their time in service, and especially by seeking times of silence. The archbishop also noted how the interior transformations of Lent can equip Catholics to better live their faiths in the public square.
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 die 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.
CNA: How can Catholics be "creative" in the way they live their Lent as a time for conversion?
Arch. 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, cards, 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.
CNA: From your pastoral experience, what do you think US Catholics need the most to make of Lent a fruitful time of conversion?
Arch. Chaput: We need silence, more than anything. If people can create some time every day -- even just 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,
CNA: Do you find any relationship between living a good Lent and how Catholics live in the public square?
Arch. 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 public life.
Last week Archbishop Chaput released a Lenten message in “The Denver Catholic Register,” in which he challenged the faithful in Denver not to get discouraged by sin and failure in their striving for holiness. “The better we know the stories of the saints,” Chaput said, “the better we understand that most of them were very much like us.”
“They were ordinary people who gradually made a habit of the right choices and good actions. Day by day, they wove extraordinary lives out of ordinary material,” he said. “With God’s help, we can do the same.”
“Lent is not a time to revile ourselves,” he counseled. “After all, what God loves, we hardly have the right to hate. But the fasting, prayer, and mortifications of the season do have a very important purpose: They help us to clear our soul of debris. They cut away the selfishness that obstructs our view of God and blocks His light from us.”
“Lent is an invitation to dethrone the distractions that keep our hearts restless and empty,” he continued. “If we make room for the real King, He’ll do much more than fill the space. He’ll make us what He intended us to be: saints.”
“So let’s live this Lent not as a burden,” the archbishop said, “but as an amnesty, a joy, a way of refocusing ourselves on the one thing that really does matter eternally — friendship with God.”