February 25, 2022

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

Don’t be afraid of failing in Lenten resolutions

Sean Gallagher“If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

So wrote the great English Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton about 100 years ago. In writing them, he wasn’t putting forward a witty justification for being mediocre or worse.

No, it was part of Chesterton’s subtle case that the most important tasks in life are not to be in the exclusive hands of experts or professionals. Everyone is to do them, even if sometimes individuals, despite their best efforts may carry them out poorly.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving—the three pillars of Catholic spiritual practices in Lent—are among these important tasks.

They aren’t the exclusive realm of the Church’s clergy or religious. All the faithful are invited to take them up as they prepare for Easter. It’s perhaps a manifestation of the broader teaching of the Church that all the baptized are called to holiness, not just an exclusive few.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are important tasks for all people because they are at the core of our common humanity.

Prayer is the grace-driven building up of our relationship with the God who created us and who is the ultimate destination of our lives.

Fasting is a discipline that helps us become detached from what is superfluous in life (e.g., favorite foods, TV shows, digital devices) and focus our hearts instead on what is of true importance.

This practice dovetails well with almsgiving. For when our hearts and minds are no longer turned inward on our own whims and desires, we can give of ourselves more effectively to those who need our help.

Almsgiving isn’t just a nice add-on we can do if we like. For, unlike some worldly philosophies that see human fulfilment in self-assertion, the Church proposes that humanity sees its epitome in Christ, who not only revealed God to man but also man to himself.

Christ’s life on this Earth was defined by self-giving and reached its culmination in his dying and rising to reconcile all humanity with God.

So, yes, prayer, fasting and almsgiving are important. And maybe you’re like me and can remember times when you’ve fallen in your Lenten resolutions.

But don’t let the importance of these practices and any past failures lead you to wonder what the point is in making resolutions this year.

Maybe you can find encouragement in these tasks that lead you to experience the joy of Easter more fully.

My family has tried ways to help each other in our Lenten disciplines. We’ll talk at dinnertime near the start of Lent about what each person is going to do and what we’ll do as a family.

Then we’ll post those resolutions on a piece of paper on our refrigerator. We also have kept jars for each person in which they can put in jellybeans for sacrifices they make during Lent.

Even with all of these and other ways to encourage each other in our Lenten practices, I can say from experience that I still fail at times. You might have, too.

But God is merciful and always offers us grace to get back up to start again on these important tasks that draw us closer to him and to each other.

For God knows that if something is worth doing—and prayer, fasting and almsgiving are surely worth doing—then they’re worth doing badly.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter and columnist for The Criterion.)

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