Is it Arbitrary or Necessary? Fr. Mike Schmitz’s Lenten Guide to Choosing the Right Penance

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Lent is almost here! Have you chosen your penance?

Fr. Mike Schmitz recently posted an excellent video, which puts the true meaning of Lenten penance into perspective.

He explained that many of us fall into two traps when deciding a Lenten penance.

Two Traps: Leniency vs. Strictness

“At times, we can fall into the trap of being way too lenient or way too strict with our penances for Lent.

Lenient: I’m going to do something I don’t even notice.

“‘I might as well say I’m eating watermelon, or no watermelon for Lent, just like my sister and I keep bringing it up, because she said it once and I think she should not ever forget it.’

“Way too strict: What is the hardest thing I can imagine myself doing?

“‘I’m doing that for Lent, because it will probably show that I really, really care about Lent, and I’’ll really grow in Lent, and I really love God because I’m doing something really hard.'”

The Real Problem With These Traps: Is Your Choice Arbitrary or Necessary?

“The problem is not leniency or strictness. The problem is that we choose something that’s unnecessary.

“In other words, we choose something that’s arbitrary, which is fine, but it’s not very helpful at all.

“In fact, we choose something too lenient and it’s arbitrary. Like, I’ll give up a certain kind of pop, or I’m going to give up fruits that have peels.

Or we’re way too strict. For example: ‘I’m going to give up food for Lent’, or, ‘I’m going to give up talking to my spouse for Lent. That’d be really hard for me to do, but I think I’m going to do it this year.'”

“That would not make any sense.

“Why? Because…it’s arbitrary: arbitrary lenience or arbitrary strictness.

“Rather, it is the wisest thing to choose a Lenten penance that’s necessary that grows out of your felt need, based on where God is calling you.”

“Here’s what I mean:

“I started doing a certain penance a little while ago, which involves a lot of asceticism. Asceticism is any kind of voluntary self-denial.

“For example, no snacks in between meals, no drinking sweetened drinks, or no drinking alcohol. Cold showers–it’s a whole thing.

“For years, I avoided this. It’s a 90-day thing. We call it P90 Exodus. Some of the asceticism of the giving up stuff that really was kind of like…I realized, ‘Oh my gosh, Lord, this has a hold on me, or I have an attachment it.’

“So when I looked at the list of the things that you do for these 90 days, I thought, ‘this is no longer arbitrary. It might be strict, but it’s not an arbitrary strictness. It’s a necessary strictness. It’s something I actually need.’

Here’s an example:

“I found myself getting really, really distracted. (I even have a talk against distraction, but I found myself getting very distracted.)

“For example, if I found myself…scrolling through YouTube while cooking a meal…and maybe watching Netflix. This constantly invited noise into my life, which constantly invited distraction into my life.

“I found myself unable to say no to that on my own. So it became really clear: for 90 days that’s one of the pieces– one of the things to avoid–basically streaming entertainment.

“So it was no longer an arbitrary strictness. It became a necessary asceticism—a necessary fast that I needed because my mind was getting so pulled in different directions. When I recognized that, I realized, “this is necessary.”

“So for yourself, for this Lent, what’s something that you can tell is getting in the way of your relationship with the Lord?

“Maybe that’s the thing to have some necessary asceticism, or necessary fasting. Lenient or strict, it doesn’t matter. Arbitrary or necessary—that’s the key.

“Hopefully this made a lot of sense to you and hopefully it’s going to help you choose the think you’re going to do or not do for this upcoming Lent.

“Because what God wants ultimately, is your freedom. What’s holding you back from freedom? That might be the area of life where it’s necessary that you have some restrictions—aka, some asceticism.”

Watch the full video below:

 Click here if you cannot see the video above.

What are you doing for Lent? Is it arbitrary or necessary?

[See also: Tired of Long Lines at Fish Restaurants During Lent? Try These 5 Food Alternatives]

[See also: What Are Your Lenten Plans? Here’s 10 Ways to Make the Most of This Liturgical Season]