I am not a Christian. My moral and philosophic framework is Christian. I hold the values, but have not been touched by G-d.
It may appear hollow to act faithful without faith. But Christian ethics hold that intent matters most. And if I am sincerely trying to be a better person, I, as a non-Christian, am actually a better Christian than a believer who does not try. Or one who merely pretends:
Sadly, it seems to me that many Latin Rite Catholics are under the impression that giving up a chocolate bar or some biscuits for Lent is a great achievement, especially if they also read a 'spiritual' book (or some such thing) as an added 'good deed'. But if we consider some of our Lenten observances with objective honestly, are they really that impressive?
Some years ago I decided to observe Lent. It was an experiment in personal discipline and an attempt to improve my health. I used the Catholic teachings as guide and inspiration, but my abstinence and service were shaped by personal demands.
I did attempt to act with reverence. In a sense I injected some religion into my spirituality. The common self-description of being “spiritual but not religious” strikes me as an attempt to appear profound without doing any work. My economic mind knows that the value of a thing is determined by what one is willing to trade for it. I wanted to find virtue and was willing to pay.
If we're honest, is there anything to be gained at all by giving up a candy bar or a biscuit for Lent? Such nonsense fasting is counter-productive if anything. If we are to fast: Fast. If we are just going to give up the odd sweet, then what are we really saying? Does our faith and spiritual life mean so little to us that we imagine that anything of any worth can be achieved by "giving up" chewing-gum or Maltesers? Such forms of minor abstinences - though basically good - seem to mock those profound and transformative fasts and penances that our ancestors undertook.
It was wonderful. I now eagerly anticipate the annual ritual. It has meaning and benefit. My routine has some regular elements—I am building a tradition—and each year I try something new. One of my current targets aligns with Catholic doctrine: no dairy.
I humbly say that my practice has inspired others to make their own experiments. This is evidence that whatever benefit I feel within must also be manifest outwardly, too. I didn’t realize there is an evangelical component to genuine Lent:
If we actually took it more seriously, then, I believe that Lent could become once more a great statement of faith to the world around us. Many people are interested to learn more about Islam when they notice their colleagues fainting through hunger during Ramadan. In like manner, interest in Catholicism would rise if Catholics really made more of an effort during the holy season of Lent.
I wish Catholics, and those who are only “acting Catholic” like me, a rewarding season of devotion. We are on the same road, using different maps.