During Lent, Catholics and other Christians reduce their intake of alcohol and delectable foods abstaining as well from meat on prescribed days. Feeling the pangs of hunger can suggest a hunger for God, our full and complete satisfaction. Fasting from a created reality frees us from that object, revitalizes the spirit, and brings self-mastery and interior freedom.
To embrace Lenten asceticism is to avoid those things which over stimulate the senses-not only food but also entertainment and the excessive use of electronic devices. The practice of Lenten asceticism is meant to intensify one's taste for God. Good or bad, taste is an analogous word extending to clothing, and one's choice of companions, and entertainment.
Good taste is restrained; bad taste is excessive. Good taste varies with the faculties of an individual that develop from early childhood. The adage, taste may not be questioned or disputed (de gustibus non disputandum est), has its limits and is not absolute. Sound taste is based on objective criteria and the particulars of truth; it is not arbitrary.
Good taste gives the sense of what is fitting, harmonious, and beautiful, a sense of what is polite and tactful. It displays social or aesthetic value. Good taste applies to table manners and public courtesy, caring for the body, and to dispositions and judgments of the mind that reveal one's choices.
A person who develops himself or herself according to the beautiful gradually learns to acquire the art of discrimination. A person with impeccable taste "has an eye for quality analogous to the eye of the connoisseur; he or she can infallibly distinguish art from kitsch, and excellent quality from average or merely good quality," writes Hans Urs von Balthasar.
The Taste for God and Acedia
The Psalmist exhorts us to "taste and see how good the Lord is" (Ps 34:8). Here taste, used in the spiritual sense, participates in the act of faith. The goal of spiritual taste is enjoyment in God's presence and communion with the divine. Those who disdain the things of God, those with no taste for God or for spiritual things suffer from acedia or spiritual sloth; acedia is "a loathing of the spiritual good as if it is something contrary to ourselves" (Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, "Acedia's Resistance to the Demands of Love: Aquinas on the Vice of Sloth"). Acedia, one of the seven deadly sins, was first discussed by the fourth-century desert fathers. Through the ages, it has been a problem, but with the current figure of 23% of non-affiliated Americans, perhaps acedia is more prevalent now than in earlier years.
Acedia is an aversion and a restless resistance to God and the Good that sees both as the burden of commitment. Acedia regrets God's call to friendship and discipleship. It's too much trouble to work at one's relationship with God. It is distaste for and disgust with spiritual things because of the physical effort involved in pursuing them. Acedia is an oppressive sorrow that so weighs down a person that he or she wants to do nothing. It is a form of nihilism. These are all classic signs of acedia, a state that recalls the early verses of "The Hound of Heaven" a long poem by Francis Thompson, an English poet, ascetic, and drug addict. He later made his peace with God but not before expressing his odyssey in this famous poem. The first lines are given below:
The Hound of Heaven
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I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up, vistaed hopes I sped;