10 Lenten Lessons from Fr. Daniel Lord, SJ

When it comes to saints, or any spiritual author for that matter, we might come across their works, be moved by their writings, and want to read everything they have written.  That was true for me.  A few years ago, I accidentally happened upon the writings of Fr. Daniel Lord, SJ, (1888-1955), an American Jesuit who reportedly wrote over a million words in his life.  His accomplishments include 90 books, 300 pamphlets, and countless articles.

I was first introduced to his post-Communion meditation book Christ in Me, and then to his two books on Mary, among many other works.  From time to time, I find myself on Ebay, looking for any of his works that might interest me.  Back in January, knowing that Lent would soon arrive, I ordered his 32-page pamphlet from 1937 titled, I Don’t Like Lent, hoping that Fr. Lord might impart his wisdom to me on this penitential season.

I Don’t Like Lent

Oftentimes Fr. Lord would use a provocative title that might catch someone off guard, as a way to entice someone to pick up his catechetical work.  The title of this pamphlet might do just that when someone sees that a Catholic priest doesn’t like Lent, or is that what he even means?  The pamphlet is written in a story-like fashion, with a discussion among several individuals, and takes off when one person remarks they don’t like Lent.  From there, the priest character, Father Hall, begins his dialogical teaching about the holy season of Lent.

As a reader, here are 10 things I took away, convincing me not to hate Lent but instead to love this penitential season.

1.We Have It Easy

As Catholics living in the third millennium we should love Lent because our observance of this holy season is a lot easier than it was years ago, even centuries ago. Read some of the writings of the saints (right now I’m reading St. Francis DeSales Lenten Sermons) and you will discover how intensely they observed Lent by embracing fasting and sacrifice.  The cover of Fr. Lord’s I Don’t Like Lent is divided into nine quadrants, each containing the word “No.”  “No Parties, no candy, no shows, no dancing, no Gloria, no three meals, no sodas, no movies, no gayety.”

Today our Lenten observance is easier, especially because we don’t’ fast every day and can continue eating dairy throughout the 40 days of Lent (something our Eastern brothers and sisters still observe).  While Lent can be difficult for us to hold fast to our resolutions and remembering to abstain from meat on Fridays, it was a lot more difficult decades and centuries ago. And for this reason, we should the Lent of today!

2. The Purpose of Lent

Why do we observe the Lenten season and keep our vigil of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for 40 days?  Fr. Lord writes: “The bishop of Louisville after the floods there canceled Lent with a stroke of his pen; the people could eat meat even on Friday.  Lent’s not a matter of faith or morals.  I suppose it’s really dearest to the heart of the Church because it recalls the forty-days fast of Christ.  […] If Christ, who was without sin, fasted completely from food for forty days, we, who are sinners, should be willing to give a pale and incomplete imitation of His perfect fast by observing Lent” (p. 6).  One of the reasons we should love Lent is because it helps us to imitate Christ and to be united with the one who gave His life for our salvation.

3. The Purpose of Sacrifices

During Lent we offer up small sacrifices to the God who loves us.  Part of the reason we make sacrifice is to tell God that we are sorry for our sins and the way we and others have offended God.  According to Fr. Lord, it is as if we are taking up a small punishment on our own as proof of our sorrow and contrition.  He analogizes it to when we offend a friend of ours, that we go out of our way to apologize and show our sorrow.  That’s what our sacrifices accomplish and it’s another reason to love the season of Lent!

4. What to Give Up

We should give up something that is important to us as our small sacrifice and Lenten discipline.  The most common sacrifices include soda, beer, or candy.  We want to offer to God something beautiful.  Our sacrifices should not be ugly.  If we dislike broccoli and decide to give it up for Lent, then there really is no sacrifice, no meaning behind our offering.

Our sacrifice needs to be a gift to God.  Fr. Lord says we wouldn’t give milkweed and nettles as a bouquet to someone we love or offer a tainted steak or vicious dog to someone, but we give something that is good, beautiful, and meaningful.

5. Sacrifice is a Gift to God

Considering the purpose of sacrifices and what we give up, we realize that they become a gift to God.  The giving of gifts to God is found in the Old Testament with the sacrifices the people would make.  When we make a sacrifice as a gift, we should offer it up as a prayer.  Fr. Lord’s example is this, “O God, I’ll give them up just to show that I do love you.”  The more difficult the sacrifice, the receiver knows the greatness of the gift.  While our sacrifice adds nothing to God’s majesty, he receives our gift because we give what means a lot to us.

6. Lent is a School

We are students of Lent and our lessons are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  In this school we also learn a lot about ourselves by realizing what we have become dependent upon and then we teach ourselves to deny and not indulge in that dependence.  Lent teaches us to place our trust in God and not in ourselves.

7. Conquering our Slavery

One of the reasons we should love Lent is because it helps us to conquer our slavery to worldly things, even if those things are good.  In a sense, Lent helps us to realize we can discipline ourselves.  Fr. Lord says,

“Good things have a way of mastering us.  Good living and good food and good drink, riches and comforts and amusements have a way of making men slaves.  God meant us to enjoy them.  He never meant them to be a substitute for Himself. […] Lent comes, and we give up some of our good food, some of our good times, some of our leisure and recreation just to prove that we can be trusted.  We master them for a few brief weeks so that they may not master us for life.  We give up voluntarily so that we may not be held slaves” (p. 20-21).

Each year, Lent affords us the opportunity to examine our relationship with the things of this world.  Many people during Lent give up social media because they realize how it has enslaved them and taken over their emotions and time.  After a time away, they return to social media, refreshed, and hopefully with tools to not become enslaved again.  But if they do, then the next Lent will help them renounce their slavery once more.  We should love Lent because it helps to set us free from behaviors which enslave us.

8. Our Fast is Good for Body and Soul

The discipline of Lenten fasting has a twofold effect.  Yes, it is good for the soul, as it helps us realize that deep within us for God, but one must not ignore the bodily good of fasting.  Less red meat, sugar, and liquor is good for the body and fosters a healthier lifestyle.  And fasting is good for the soul, helping to correct any vice such as gluttony or drunkenness.  We should love Lent because it promotes both bodily and spiritual health.

9. We Train for Our Reward

Fasting also helps us train for our spiritual reward.  If you think about athletes, they undergo rigorous training so they may compete well.  In the spiritual life we will combat with evil spirits, so our spiritual training must be thorough.

As Fr. Lord puts it, we are all spiritual athletes, and must face our struggles in order gain our prize.  And we know that the prize is our crown in eternal life.  We should love Lent because it is a time of spiritual training for eternal life.

10. We Resist the Good

As Fr. Lord ends his reflection on Lent, and the reasons why people might not like Lent, he concludes saying that most people resist whatever is good for them.  We have all resisted going to the dentist for our checkup, exercising, or eating right, even though we know that it is for our good.

As Fr. Lord showed throughout his pamphlet, Lent is good for us in many ways, especially for our spiritual well-being.  And perhaps that is why some might say, “I Don’t Like Lent.”  They want to resist what is good for them.  Like so many of the things we resist, eventually we will come to embrace this holy season, and hopefully by it’s end, we will say, “I Love Lent.”

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Fr. Edward Looney is a priest in the Diocese of Green Bay, a Marian theologian, author, columnist, media personality, podcaster, film enthusiast, and fellow pilgrim. He is the host of the podcast, Hey Everybody! It’s Fr. Edward. You can follow him on social media at the handle @FrEdwardLooney.

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