Earlier in Lent I was discussing the suggestion that one should be more concerned to ‘pick up’ things in Lent than to ‘give up’ things : and the ‘Thought for Today’, coupled with a comment made about it (for which H/T to Miss Ellen E), raised a further idea in my mind on that topic.
In the ‘Thought for Today’ the Curé d’Ars was suggesting that a good way to break bad habits was to do things which are the opposites of one’s besetting sins : and although this may be easier said than done, it is at least reasonably easy to understand as a concept – I mean, if one is overmuch given to eating Chocolate, for instance, then clearly giving it up for Lent is an obvious step on the road to mastering one’s cravings, and thus to controlling the greed which leads to overindulgence.
Similarly, one may decide to make regular use during Lent of some devotion which opposes some theological vice to which one knows one is prone : I know someone, for instance, who is saying Cardinal Merry del Val’s ‘Litany of Humility’ every day of Lent this year.
So far, the sainted Curé’s advice is perfectly straightforward, and easy to understand – and, indeed, to follow at least in theory.
What occurred to me, though, was that for some of us our besetting problems may not best be approached in this way. Your besetting sin, for example, may in fact be something over which you have little direct control, simply because it is more the symptom of a problem than a problem itself. For example : your over-indulgence in chocolate may just be greed – in which case ‘giving up’ chocolate is what you need to do - give it up; no more, and no less.
If, though, it’s not ultimately greed that causes you to overdo the chocolate but – say – that you are subconsciously using it as ‘comfort food’ to help you cope with some long-standing emotional trauma, then recognising this, and actively working during Lent to try and address the cause of your chocoholism – ‘picking up’, in other words, the need to remove the source of the problem, and actively addressing that – will actually do you far more good, especially in the long term, than simply ‘treating the symptoms’.
Now : you may be feeling that this is a bit like saying ‘during Lent I will lose two stone in weight’, and I accept that using Lent in that way is ultimately not what it’s about.
Where what you’re trying to do here, though, is to reduce or eliminate problems which lead one to bad habits, whether they are vicious of themselves, or merely bad for one – and I think most moral theologians would agree that almost anything which is physically or mentally bad for one is, ultimately, at least likely to be responsible, sooner or later, for sin.
Thus, using Lent as a time not only to try to treat the bad habits – the symptoms – but also to identify, and try and resolve, the causes of those bad habits, actually is something else worthwhile which we can ‘pick up’ as a part of our Lenten discipline.