Lent – 40 days of fortitude


By Dr. Tim Millea
Catholic Health Care Today

Dr. Millea

Many years ago, after graduating from college, I accepted my first job on the Gulf Coast of Alabama.  How a small-town Iowa boy relocated to Mobile is a story for another time but it required adaptation to culture and climate on my part.  However, God knew what he was about, as I met my wife and subsequently attended medical school there.

Mobile holds a distinction that is unknown to many, as it is overshadowed by  New Orleans. It is a historical fact that the celebration of Mardi Gras in America began in Mobile, in 1704, a year after its founding. The festivities then spread east and west along the coast and they all shared the same motivation, which remains today. Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday, is seen as the last opportunity for revelry prior to Ash Wednesday and Lent. 

With our entry into Lent, we are called to a greater attentiveness to the sufferings of Jesus. His trials were certainly most evident in his Passion and crucifixion.  However, the 40 days of Lent also remind us of his 40 days in the desert prior to beginning his public ministry.  The pursuits to which we are called in Lent are well established:  intensified prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Adherence to these activities requires determination, sacrifice and commitment. Fortitude is also necessary, in our mortal attempt to emulate Christ’s courage in the desert and the final 18 hours of his life.


We are familiar with common Lenten practices of giving up desserts, attending daily Mass and participating in the Stations of the Cross.  While those practices are important, it may be helpful to consider the sacrifices of some of our friends and neighbors every day and not just during Lent. They must cope with a chronic disease for which there is no cure. While most of us try to increase our devotion to Jesus’ sufferings for 40 days, they must accept their crosses 365 days each year. We can learn much from their examples.

Carolyn Humphreys is an occupational therapist and a Secular Discalced Carmelite who has worked many years with people suffering from chronic disease. Her recent book, “Courage Through Chronic Disease,” details lessons learned from those interactions that are instructive for people caring for the patient as well as the patient and his or her family. The title states the most important factor in a well-lived but difficult life: courage in the face of challenges. Some of the key observations:

  • Recognize the negative aspects of the situation yet consistently focus on the positive aspects of life. The chronic affliction need not dominate the lives of the patient or the family.
  • Our self-image is impacted directly by the positive factors of our identity, which include perseverance and diligence. Attention to a consistent schedule of prayer and contemplation help develop those traits.
  • As Humphreys states in her book, “The energy that keeps us moving on a journey with a chronic disease is hope.” Hope enables us to accept the trials we encounter in life and know that with God’s help we are not alone in our daily journey.
  • Remember that we are a member of the Church community that includes our family, friends and parish. We can form unbreakable bonds with our unified prayers for one another.
  • The acceptance of suffering is certainly difficult but it can result in the greatest possible gift. In our prayers for help in dealing with our problems, our closeness to God will increase, resulting in a firm resolution to persevere and trust in his plan for us. If our life seems hopeless, we can regain confidence in Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel, “…with God all things are possible.”

Lent is a time for all of us to meditate on the areas of our life that need attention and improvement. However, we must consider that those efforts are not limited to 40 days of the year. As our sisters and brothers with chronic diseases can attest, we must recall our efforts daily with a prayer for help and the hope-filled expectation that God’s grace will allow us to see the gains in our devotion to him.

One of the 20th century’s best examples of courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles was Helen Keller. The recollections she provides from her life provide evidence of the advice in Humphrey’s book, which includes Keller’s admonition for those dealing with difficulty: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

(Dr. Tim Millea is president of the St. Thomas Aquinas Medical Guild and a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport.)

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