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State Chaplain 2018 - 2019

Picture of Rev Kenney St. Hilaire

Rev Kenneth St. Hilaire
March 2019

Most Catholics—and even a good number of non-Catholics in the world—are familiar with our long-held tradition of giving things up for Lent. Even the McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwich came into existence because Catholics did not eat meat on Fridays (actually, not only during Lent, but all throughout the year)!  As Ash Wednesday draws near, we begin pondering what we’ll give up for Lent. Some in recent years have focused on doing good deeds instead of giving something up. However, I would argue that this long tradition of fasting and self-denial should not be kicked to the curb.

The practice of asceticism is an important one for spiritual health, and is not something we should tend to only during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. The spiritual masters of our Catholic tradition advocate self-denial and sacrifice as essential parts of our lifelong journey with and toward God. The word asceticism itself comes from the Greek word ?s??s??, which migrated into English as askesis (“uh-SKEE-sis”) or ascesis (“uh-SEE-sis”). The word simply refers to the exercise and training done by athletes in order to be able to compete well.

St. Paul famously employed the image as a metaphor for the spiritual life in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

You know that while all the runners in the stadium take part in the race, the award goes to one man. In that case, run so as to win! Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things. They do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable. I do not run like a man who loses sight of the finish line. I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. What I do is discipline my own body and master it, for fear that after having preached to others I myself should be rejected. (9:24-27) (Notice that the self-denial and sacrifice required in physical training are ends in themselves: the athlete does it in an effort to win the contest.)

My challenge to you this Lent is to adopt some kind of asceticism in your life that you can honestly regard as a kind of spiritual “training” akin to the athletic training of jogging, lifting weights, and such. Don’t choose something that doesn’t really stretch you (no pun intended!). The Church urges us to engage in prayer, fasting and almsgiving not just to check a box, but to help us to love God more wholly.

If I were to start some regimen of physical exercise and forget that my goal was to become more fit, to ward off illness and generally to become a healthier person, I would surely not persevere. Without a purpose in sight, it wouldn’t take me long at all to abandon the program of discipline and self-denial. The American Civil Rights Movement song “Eyes on the Prize” had it right: we’ve got to stay focused on our goal if we are ever to attain it. In this case, if our goal is to increase our love for God, we might ask ourselves what we are willing to do to further that end.

Could we make a food-related sacrifice? Examples: no snacking between meals, forgoing our favorite foods, fasting from flavor (no salt and pepper!), cutting back on sweets.

How about a time-related sacrifice? Examples: less TV or internet use, less time spent on personal pursuits, more time with family or serving the poor.

Be creative. Do something that will really strengthen those spiritual “muscles.” And always keep in mind the reason you’re doing it.

Vivat Jesus!


 Fr. Kenneth St. Hilaire

State Chaplain