''FATHER," said the Convert, rather earnestly, "do you know I sometimes feel a bit uneasy about this coming time of Lent? What can I do to keep it? I can't fast, you know; I tried it last Ember Days, and got a roaring headache. Yet it seems very odd to me for a Catholic to do no penance at all during the Church's penance-time." "Fasting from food isn't the only way of doing penance," said Father, with a twinkle in his eye. "You might guess that it was if you watched some of your fellow-parishioners, but it is not. Did it ever occur to you, for example, that one's soul can do a bit of fasting too?" "One's soul fast? What can you mean?" "Why, bodily fasting," answered Father, "is curbing the body's appetite for food. Now, hasn't your soul her appetites too? And can't you mortify them?" "How?" answered the Convert, with some eagerness. "Tell me how !"
"You need only think of some of the soul's appetites," answered Father, "and you'll readily catch what I mean. There's the appetite we all have for doing as we like, for instance. Our way is the only way. If we can't have it, we sulk and fret. Now, if we were to say to our self-will, when it wants its own way very badly: 'No! You can't have it this time. You must do some one else's will for a change. You must be accommodating, gentle, obliging. You must yield and give up your own desires,' isn't that curbing our soul's appetite? Isn't that making our self-will fast? And it won't give you a headache, either, do you think?" "Whew I I believe I'd rather fast from food," said the Convert, with deep conviction and sincerity. "No doubt you would. It's excellent penance, be sure, to make your self-will fast.
Then there's that other appetite of our soul, the desire of praise, esteem, good name. You might make that fast a bit, too, every now and then. Do some good deed and carefully avoid getting any credit for it whatever. Or keep silence when some one casts a harmless slur upon you, nettling, but insignificant. Don't answer, don't defend yourself. There's good penance in that I" "I should say there was I" agreed the Convert rapidly. "Then there's the tendency we all of us have to grow fussy, and cross and snappish—bad-tempered, in a word. A good strong outburst would relieve us. If we could only vent our impatience on somebody, or something, we'd feel relieved. But that's wrong; make your bad temper fast. Crush down the ugly mood. Hold back the angry word. There's penance for you, isn't it?" "Thank you. Father," said the Convert softly. "I have enough ways already to last me all through Lent."
"We haven't nearly exhausted the subject, though," said Father, his eyes twinkling brighter than ever. "There's being obliging. What a penance that is at times! Some one at home asks us to do them a little service. We straightway think of a good excuse. Away with it I Say : 'Yes, of course I will,' with a bright face and a cheery tone, and you have made your selfishness fast to good purpose, I can tell you. No headache, either, I think.
"Then there's almsgiving; that's another way of doing penance. That's making our greediness fast. You're well-to-do, let us say, but not rich. If you keep all you have, you have just enough to be comfortably off. But in comes some good cause, or some deserving fellow in hard luck, and asks you for aid. Say : 'Why, certainly I Here I It means a little inconvenience for me, but it may be life or death for you. Here's the money, and welcome!' Isn't there penance in that'?" "Penance and common sense too," said the Convert. "But how few of us see it that way. I always thought that I was excused from almsgiving, because I have always needed all that I had. Needed it for my comfort, I mean. But your point is good. It's a Christian way of looking at things. Mine was rather a pagan way, I'm afraid."
"Well, you see our life is full of ways of doing penance," went on Father, "which don't hold a single headache between them all. Even the Morning Offering, which you make every day, I hope"—the Convert nodded assent—"is a true act of penance, too, it only it is deep and sincere; because we naturally love to do things for our own self-love, for our own interests, our own good, our own comfort, our own pleasure, our own praise. Now, if we honestly say: 'Not for myself to-day, but for the sweet Heart of Jesus,' and say it honestly and earnestly, and mean it all the day long, there's a touch of penance, you see, even there." "Thanks, a thousand thanks," said the Convert, holding out his hand. "You've opened my eyes. If I have the nerve to do as I mean to do now, I believe I shall perform some downright good penance before the end of this Lent. But I see it takes nerve. To fast, after all, is largely a question of mealtime. But this sort of penance will keep one's will-power in action pretty well through the whole day."
"Don't think for a moment, though, that I mean to decry fasting as a means of doing penance,'' said Father, as his visitor rose to depart. "Fasting is the official penance which the Church has chosen for her children, and it is sanctioned and made holy by Our Lord's long fasting, and by the faithful
practice of all the saints. It has a double merit, too, because it is also a work of obedience. But if a man can't fast from food, I think you realize now that it is simply foolish for him to say, 'I'm free.' There are a hundred appetites within him besides his hunger for food, and he can always make some of these fast to good purpose, indeed."
"Well—if everybody would fast, as you say, from all his unpleasant appetites and ugly inclinations," said the Convert heartily, "what a pleasant sort of perpetual Eastertime this life would soon get to be!"
Source: "Your Neighbor and You" by Father Garesche, Imprimatur 1918