Against masochism

My priest — well, I think of him as mine, though actually I share him with some other people — has that wonderful gift for catching a person by surprise. This shows to best effect when that person — in this case, moi — has just said something stupid.

I was reflecting upon my unworthiness for Lent, and noted that I actually like beans (of various kinds and in various preparations) on rice. Also, little fishes from little tins, mooshed in rice. Also, — it was my latest example — aloo methi, with rice. (That is, potatoes chopped into fenugreek leaves, with some onion and tomato pulp and crushed cashews and curry spices, fried in bran or vegetable oil.) Or with naan, instead of rice. And a modest tumbler of, say, coconut water, to wash it down. Or some grapefruit juice, which I also adore.

Of course, in Lent there could easily be too much of a good thing. The meal must fit in one’s lenten bowl, and not spill over. The “seconds” go back in the fridge. Though in my case, I need the help of the angels to walk me back there. (And sometimes, they are busy.)

I love the monastic simplicity: just the bowl, the spoon, and the tumbler. The sight of these three things fills me with peace. And nothing improves the appetite like hunger, which can be a cleanser in itself. One can be made happy by such things.

So here I was saying to the priest that I enjoy Lent; that surely there is sin in it somewhere. What should I do, cut the fenugreek? the cumin? (The cashews I’d already resolved to omit.)

My train of self-regarding thought was brought to a stop at this point:

“That is not a sin, David. That is good luck.”

He was being gentle. He wasn’t shouting “Jansenist!” at me, the way he does sometimes. He went on to explain that Lent is not a celebration of masochism. It is fast, abstinence — obedience, to a glorious end.

Should I happen to like it, bully for me.

I used to dread Lent, because I would expect it to be painful. I still rather dread having to be extra charitable; or even just polite. I am not, after all, a very nice person. True charity makes one accept things, that one may be loath to accept. It makes one part with things, that one would rather keep; and to restrain in some measure one’s eyes, one’s lips, and the inflection of one’s nose. The abstinence from doing what is hateful — even on some days a complete fast — is what I find oppressive. It goes against my nature, my inner Adam, my “preferential option” for being a shit.

“Lord, if you don’t mind, I would rather cut even the potatoes.”

Now, there are good people who, it seems to me, are charitable by nature; glad in their charity, and delighted to give more. My papa was a bit like that; I could never understand it. Had he only been Catholic, he might have welcomed Lent. And I’ve met others even more, by a mysterious grace, given to confoundingly saintly behaviour.

Should they cut back on charity because they enjoy it?