What is the use of giving up something like dessert? Dessert is not an immoral thing under most circumstances, and moderate enjoyment of physical pleasures can help us to be contented and pleasant to the people around us. Self-denial does not obviously or directly make us more loving or kind or generous to others, so what IS the point?
But perhaps that is the point. Self-denial takes away some of the comfortable props we lean on to help us feel well-disposed towards the world. Not all of them–and I don’t recommend looking for a Lenten discipline that will leave you thoroughly irritable and out of sorts with everyone around you!–but removing just one or two small buffers can test our charity and goodwill in a real, though small way.…Our small challenges can, as St. Claude reminded us, be the means by which we acquire heroic virtue, even if there is nothing especially heroic in the moment about biting your tongue against a sarcastic reply to a coworker or quelling your impatience when returning a small child to bed for the umpteenth time.
The choices we make when we encounter life’s tiny thorns are important because they are the means by which we form our characters. To use psychological language, these choices help to mold our affective responses, to change our first, interior responses to temptation.
(Image credit Petr Kratochvil, via publicdomainpictures.net)