One look at me would tell you that I am in no position to lecture anyone on the joys of asceticism, or the rewards of deprivation.
I never saw a tasty morsel I did not like, nor an exercise regimen I did.
I am lazy, undisciplined and seduced by comfort.
An achingly soft fabric, a juicy steak, a toasty bed, a fat wine.... these speak sweet nothings to me.
Lent is a wonderful time for me, because it pricks my conscience the way New Year's Resolutions do for some people.
And because of my natural proclivities for avoiding so much of what might steer me towards fitness or health or an acceptable BMI, I try hard not to confute appropriate Lenten practices with self-help objectives.
There is no moral virtue, no spiritual capital to be gained in sticking to a needed weight-loss diet, or in improving ones bodily attractiveness.
Would you make a Lenten practice of, oh, I don't know.... remembering to pluck your eyebrows?
Perhaps because of my loathing for even moderate, health-not-aesthetics-directed exercise, and my admiration, (if not, alas, affinity,) for genuine asceticism, and opportunities for joyfully embraced suffering, I have always been "outside" the zeitgeist, an observer, I have always seen the inanity of a society that, in its If-it-feels-good... standards of "morality" has nothing but contempt for abstinence, moderation, or self-abnegation in ones zeal for holiness, but glorifies hard work or even suffering in the pursuit of the highest virtue -- Hotness, ( you can read about it in the Gospel according to Paris, I believe...)
Mark Shea has a terrific excerpt from his own book, that touches on this subject in reflections on the Sorrowful Mysteries, of all things.
The Scourging at the Pillar
In the Rosary, we are invited to contemplate the reality of redemptive suffering in the mysterious Scripture that "with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5). In our culture, that's supposed to be the same thing as saying "We are invited to contemplate sick, masochistic weirdness." For our culture appears, at first glance, to have no place for redemptive suffering. It is, we are sure, a relic from the Dark Ages when the Church was obsessed with pain as being somehow meritorious. Today, we are assured, things are different. Here, for instance, is how the modern mind works:HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — In Hollywood's competitive climate, accolades often go to performers who either pack on the pounds (think Renée Zellweger as Bridget Jones or Charlize Theron in "Monster") or let their frames waste away (Christian Bale in "The Machinist").
There's been another category at the movie theaters recently: the phenomenally fit.
Jessica Biel was a vampire slayer with deltoids to die for in "Blade: Trinity". [Biel] kept a close eye on portion sizes and drank plenty of water. [Beil] recalled that at the height of her training, women pulled her aside to ask, "What's your secret?" It was a question that Biel identified with — and resented just a bit.
"I was, like, 'Secret? You want the secret?' The secret is, there is no secret," Biel said. "There's no pill, there's no diet, there's no magic drink."
The trainers agreed to describe their clients' workouts for their big screen roles to show that there's nothing easy — or particularly mysterious — about getting in shape, no matter who you are.
And you don't have to spend as much time in the gym as the stars do, they said, adding that an hour's time, five to six days a week, will make a difference.
Before her latest role as a take-no-prisoners vampire slayer in the new movie "Blade: Trinity," Biel, 22, already had a body most women would covet. [Yet she not only had to get] into shape for a grueling, physical shoot in which the actress would perform her own stunts, [she had] to transform her lithe athletic body into that of a hyper-stylized vampire assassin with an hourglass figure.
First, there was weight training — something she'd never really done before — and she had to rev up her cardio activity with martial arts and kickboxing.
The toughest tasks... were ... torturous jumping squats, which tightened up her legs and core muscles.
In all, she was working out and training about two hours a day, five to six days a week, including her fight training for the movie.
"I was just coming home and crashing. I had never really worked out that hard before. I don't think I dreamt once, I was just so tired," Biel said. "I was thinking, 'What have I gotten myself into?' "
A few weeks into the new regimen, Biel felt her body changing from the inside, but fretted that she wasn't seeing similar changes on the outside.
You see, in the Dark Ages Jesus fasted and subjected Himself to physical hardship in order to prepare for His all-too-real confrontation with the Evil One. In our enlightened age, however, people fast and subject themselves to physical hardship in order to pretend they're confronting the Evil One. In the Dark Ages, people like Paul could rejoice in their sufferings for the sake of Christ's body. But today we rejoice in our sufferings for the sake our bodies.
In short, the culture which has given us the Stairmaster has little room for sneering at the asceticism of our ancestors. When we think it's important, we can pursue asceticism with all the zeal of St. Francis rolling in the snow. The difference lies in what we think is an important goal. The goal of the saints, carrying their crosses, is union with God Who carried His cross. The goal of our culture is toned abs.