One of my favorite saints is Augustine of Hippo: his insight into matters of theology, philosophy, science and mathematics overwhelm me. His ideas about God and infinity, time, creation and evolution were advanced, and fit well into contemporary thinking. In this article I want to display what St. Augustine had to say about Lent, and emphasize how relevant it is today.
LENT IS THE EPITOME OF OUR WHOLE LIFE
One of the main goals we should have in our Lenten practices–prayer, fasting, penance and almsgiving–is to share even a little, albeit vicariously, in the sufferings of Our Lord as he traveled that hard road to Calvary. This is what St. Augustine says, and he adds that this goal should not be limited to just Lent.
Christians must always live this way, without any wish to come down from their Cross–otherwise they will sink beneath the world’s mire. But if we have to do so all our lives, we must make even a greater effort during the days of Lent. It is not a simple matter of living through forty days. Lent is the epitome of our whole life.
–St. Augustine, Sermon 205, I. As quoted in Augustine Day by Day, March 14th
ST. AUGUSTINE ON FASTING
Lenten fasts should not be as for a diet; they should be an attempt to partake in the sufferings of Christ. St. Augustine talks about how difficult it is to be temperate in eating and drinking and what fasting during Lent really means:
I struggle each day against concupiscence in eating and drinking. It is not something I can resolve to cut off and touch no more, as I would with concubinage. The bridle put on the throat must be held with moderate looseness and moderate firmness. Is there anyone, Lord, who is not carried a little beyond personal need? —St. Augustine, as quoted in Augustine Day by Day, for 24th Feb..
To that I can only add, “Lord, let me be both moderate and firm.”
Your fast would be rejected if you were immoderately severe toward your servant. Will it be approved if you fail to recognize your brother or sister? I am not asking what food you abstain from, but what you love. Do you love Justice? Well, let your love be seen! ibid, for 26th Feb..
And this says that fasting is not enough, we must love–that is to say, we must be charitable.
All these endeavors for fasting are concerned not about the rejection of certain foods as unclean, but about the subjugation of inordinate desire and the maintenance of neighborly love.Charity especially is guarded: food is subservient to charity, speech to charity, and facial expressions to charity. Everything works together for Charity alone.” ibid, for 27th February.
St. Augustine’s message about Lent is clear to me: I think it means that our Lenten vows with respect to fasting, what we speak and how we look at others, are altogether subservient to what we do in love (charity) for our neighbors; most importantly, he proposes that we live in Lent not only from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday, but as much as we can through the year.