Before entering the Dominicans, I attended a diocesan seminary run by Benedictine Monks, one of whom was my spiritual director. He gave me a piece of advice once, something he and many of the monks themselves did: find one thing to do every meal to mortify yourself with. Take one less dessert, or don’t add salt to the potatoes, or skip hot sauce, or choose cheaper (or skip) wine … This fosters detachment from needing to always have the best things, while practicing the virtue of enjoyment. It isn’t so that you can’t enjoy a meal anymore, though! In fact, it would be “vicious”, (a deficiency on our part), to be unable to truly enjoy good food. I myself love a good espresso or a delicious sockeye salmon done perfectly (my father is a French chef after all), so delicious simple food is part of my family, who I am, and what I love. But there is a distinction between enjoyment versus attachment!
…there is a distinction between enjoyment versus attachment!
Enjoying something means being able to experience the goodness of it, and the more refined our pallet becomes (like a connoisseur for wine), the more we can appreciate and enjoy it. St. Francis of Assisi himself, a man well accustomed to self-mortification and detachment from comforts, loved almond cookies. It is a good thing to learn how to appreciate the good things we have and have been given by God, others, and by our own hard work.
Attachment, on the other hand, is a shorthand way of referring to “inordinate attachment”, and has nothing to do with enjoying good things, or having our basic life-needs of food and companionship satisfied. It’s called Inordinate attachment when it is, well, “not ordered” – when not having a cup of good coffee ruins your entire day, for example. Or if you’re not performing as hoped for at school/work/family life, etc. and lose your deeper peace and happiness. There’s nothing wrong with being bothered by things, but when you are inordinately attached to something, it means you lose your peace without it. It means your deepest sense of peace, love and happiness are not grounded in God but other things of lesser importance. The saints were able to be happy based on their relationship with God alone – and this is our goal.
“Whatever a man loves he inevitably clings to, and in order not to lose it he rejects everything that keeps him from it. So he who loves God cultivates pure prayer, driving out every passion that keeps him from it.” – St Maximos the Confessor
This is also what Lent is for: a season of focusing on detaching ourselves again from the things we have grown to consider as ‘necessary’ for our happiness and peace. Detachment might bring short-term unhappiness as we force ourselves to let go of things we’re inordinately attached to, but it brings long-term peace, since our happiness is no longer based on the things we don’t need, but on God.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6.
That’s where this little trick comes in. Fasting (a means of self-mortification) is not always possible for some of us, or we’re not used to it or it seems too tough. But one of the main purposes of fasting is to learn to detach from our inordinate desires and reattach ourselves to God. This little trick – of learning to be ok with choosing the lesser physical pleasure for the sake of cultivating spiritual good – is a good starting point, or even a good ongoing practice even after Lent is over.
Br. Chrysostom Mijinke, O.P. | Meet the Student Brothers in Formation HERE