REMEMBER, MAN, you are dust and to dust you shall return.
Jesus falls a second time, at the Little Sisters of the Poor, in Saint Louis.
Whenever the Holy Mother Church apparently abandons something good, the secular world takes it and perverts it. We have seen this with sacred music — now heard in concert halls and sampled in popular music — and in metaphysics, taken over by the New Age. The imagery of authentic Catholic liturgical art, such as the Gothic style, has been given over to profane use.
In current Catholic disciplinary practice dating from 1966, there is no need for a carnival, for we do not have significant fasting and abstinence from meat products unlike former days. And so, carnival has been taken over by the secularists, where in many places it has become a non-religious festival of excess and vice. Authentic carnival practices are rare, and typically are found only in rural areas. See the article Carnival and Lent. Many accuse Catholicism of taking pagan festivals and making them her own, but that is precisely what the accusers do to Catholic festivals: taking them as their own and making them pagan, which is what we see with Christmas and most other major Christian holidays.
We need to understand that Lent is a time of purification, of spiritual warfare, of denying the self, in imitation of Christ’s 40 days in the desert, of Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness, embracing the suffering of Christ’s passion in acknowledgement of our sins.
In particular, Lent is a time for prayer, penance (often by fasting), and almsgiving. Many have difficulty in prayer, but the simple solution is to just do it, and it will become habitual. According to the Oxford American Dictionary, penance is “a voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward repentance for having done wrong”. Unfortunately, many Americans feel that they are good people, and so don’t need to do penance. Likewise, fasting in and of itself as a method of disciplining the body is not seen as a good thing, and many people (if they can afford it) choose cosmetic surgery to replace self-discipline. Almsgiving is now seen as something that the government does, and we are even told to not give anything to panhandlers. Overcoming contemporary culture is very difficult, but we should at least try, and be open to grace.
Psychologically, our era is a time of unprecedented suffering, particularly in wealthy countries. But this is not generally physical suffering (although that is inevitable), bur rather spiritual suffering. Depression was once very rare but today is common, and it is far worse for a person than physical suffering, and it often manifests itself in hypochondria. From a purely human standpoint, embracing bodily suffering, and transfiguring it, is the best method of overcoming this kind of spiritual suffering, and so Lent has a good purpose that even secularists could understand, if they weren’t hell-bent on imposing spiritual suffering. And so it is good practice to replace spiritual suffering by physical suffering via self-denial.
Even long before I became Catholic, I noticed that Catholics tended to handle suffering better than others. This is a kind of ‘cool,’ similar to the now nearly-lost English “stiff upper lip,” the kind of disregard for the self that is seen in the best moments of chivalry and valor. This is not quite stoical resignation (although it is close to it), but suffering can be endured joyfully — and that is what we are commanded to do.