Last year was the first time I observed Lent. I was still figuring out whether or not I was going to become Catholic and I thought that if I could get through a season of ascetic misery, then maybe I could “do this Catholic thing.”
I took stock of what things I enjoyed most in life and decided to give up music. No constant streaming of music as I did my work, studies, or chores. No music while in the car en route to here or there.
During those months, the only time I heard music was on Sundays. The worshipful singing of hymns became the pinnacle experience of my week. And also on Sundays, I would celebrate mini-Feasts (Easter being the Feast) in which I allowed myself to listen to classical music.
It was during one such Sunday afternoon as I was listening to Rachmaninoff that I learned something about the purpose of fasting during Lent. I was moving about the house gathering the trash with headphones on and full immersion in musical ecstasy. Various family members kept interrupting my listening of music: “Anthony, have you seen my bookmarker?” “Anthony, did you remember to empty the trash can in the laundry room?” “Hey, Anthony, look at my Lego castle.”
Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. “I’m trying to listen to my music,” I barked. I wish I could say that my family was angry. Worse than that, they were hurt. And I was horrified; I had failed to be a good Catholic; it was all for naught!
I took some time that evening to reflect on why I responded that way. I saw a depth to my own selfishness that revealed to me how deeply attached to music I was. And that self-knowledge—seeing how my attachments to earthly goods can become idolatrous, seeing how my sinfulness manifests itself in selfish indulgences—was the humbling fruit of my participation in Lent.
I started Lent last year with the notion that I was going to participate to prove that I could be a good Catholic. I finished Lent last year with a greater understanding of my own weaknesses and my ever present need for God’s grace. I learned that I could be a bad Catholic and do this Catholic thing, because being a Catholic didn’t depend on what I could do. I needed that season of striving to show me how vain it is to hope in myself, how glorious to hope in Christ.