Posted by: godandchocolate | February 11, 2010

Lent: Don’t Give Up Chocolate!

photo credit: Felix Carroll /

I just had to post this interview I found yesterday for a self-directed Lenten retreat, written by Brother Michael Gaitley, MIC. It’s called Consoling the Heart of Jesus: A Do-it-Yourself Lenten Retreat. The selling point of this retreat, well, speaks to me:

Why not give up chocolate, and why take on Consoling the Heart of Jesus?
Giving up chocolate is easy. My retreat is even easier. OK, seriously, as soon as Ash Wednesday pops up on our radar screens, we’re all starting to feel a bit guilty because we still haven’t decided what our Lenten sacrifice is going to be. And, if you’re like me, you’ll probably still be deliberating about what you’re going to give up come Holy Week. (Laughs). So, last year, when I was pounding out one of the many “final drafts” of my book, I had the bright idea of asking my friends and family to read the retreat as their Lenten sacrifice. They loved it. They were off the hook. And they gorged themselves with chocolate all Lent long. Actually, I needed their help, because I wanted to find out if the retreat really worked.

So did it?
It did, and does. More on that later. But almost all of them wrote back to me that making the retreat was so much more effective for their spiritual growth than some arbitrary sacrifice, like giving up chocolate. With this in mind, I decided to make the release date of my book just in time for Lent, 2010, although — and this is important — this retreat is not just for Lent. It’s for anytime.

First off, Br. Michael seems to underestimate the difficulty level of giving up chocolate. EASY? Uh, someone hasn’t seen my secret stashes of chocolate in the freezer, nor have they consulted me on the main qualification of all desserts (hint: it’s dark, cacao-based, and delicious), nor have they consulted St. Teresa of Avila on the matter! I’m not sure I’m down with gorging myself all Lent long, but the concept of a more meaningful Lenten sacrifice really speaks to me. And hey, God AND chocolate is better than just God–even during Lent–right?

I’ll let Br. Michael continue.

Well, let’s stick with Lent for now since Lent is a time when we’re especially called to focus on our relationship with the Lord. So, how, exactly does your retreat work as a Lenten sacrifice?
Traditionally, Catholics make a three-fold Lenten sacrifice: (1) prayer, (2) fasting, (3) almsgiving. People who purchase this retreat and make it during Lent would fulfill their Lenten sacrifice completely. It works like this:

Prayer: My book is a do-it-yourself retreat. A retreat is time of more intensified prayer. Bingo. People who make this retreat, have fulfilled that part of their Lenten sacrifice.

Fasting: We often think of fasting in terms of bread and water, and that’s all well and good. (So long as we’re not talking chocolate.) However, fasting can also be from things like television, Internet, or whatever else we may be tempted to waste time with. So, those who make this retreat — I suggest — would “fast” from routine recreations and devote their time to the spiritual reading of the retreat.

Almsgiving: Of course, during this time of economic crisis, money is tight for most people. In fact, actually going on a real retreat — that is to say, a retreat that requires travel and accommodations — might break the bank. While my retreat is only $14.95, that’s still a sacrifice for a lot of people. But that’s kind of the point. By purchasing Consoling the Heart of Jesus, people give up money to help support the Marians in our efforts to spread the message of The Divine Mercy. So, almsgiving is covered, too — and one will even have a little money left over for jelly beans … er, I mean chocolate.

That works. Especially noting that this book is no slim volume (it’s 430 pages!), I can see the sacrificial aspect starting to come in.

Finally, Br. Michael says that his retreat blends Ignatian spirituality with the image of the Divine Mercy presented most forcefully by St. Faustina Kowalska, St. Therese of Lisieux, and, apparently Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.

What does all that have to do with the title Consoling the Heart of Jesus?
Well, it’s like this: Ignatian spirituality is all about finding a most essential principle for the spiritual life, and then directing all one’s energies toward living out that principle. For the Jesuits, the congregation founded by St. Ignatius, that “most essential principle” was the greater glory of God. In other words, a Jesuit strives to direct all of his thoughts, words, and actions toward increasing the glory of God. It’s a bit different in my retreat. I adopt as the most essential principle for my retreat the same principle adopted by St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Faustina Kowalska, and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, to name a few. What did they see as the “most essential principle” of the spiritual life? Consoling Jesus. In other words, they directed all of their energies to delighting the Lord, giving Him joy, and consoling His broken Heart. Perhaps, Blessed Teresa expressed this idea most poignantly with her laser beam focus on the “thirst” of Jesus on the Cross. In other words, her most essential principle was to hear the thirst of Jesus on the Cross — not a thirst for water but a thirst for love — and to strive with all her might to “quench His thirst” by giving Him her love. Now, St. Faustina and St. Therese express the most essential principle in the same way, namely, the thirst of Jesus, but they understood quenching Jesus’ thirst, or consoling Him, to be the same as trusting Him. That’s the line my retreat follows. It focuses on consoling the Heart of Jesus by living a radical trust in His mercy. In a sense, the image of The Divine Mercy says it all with its rays of mercy and the prayer at the bottom, “Jesus, I trust in You!”

Brother Mike, I trust in Jesus, and I trust you, too. However, all of our readers might not know you. So, why should they listen to you? I mean, do you have any famous people who endorse your book?
Sure do. Do you like apples? How do you like these apples: Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, Ralph Martin, and more [see the full list].

… Oh, and my mom.

The most attractive aspect of all of this, to me at least, is that it sounds really accessible and helpful for the spiritual growth of anyone who reads it, from the poorly catechized right on up through the theologians. With a theology background myself I can often get ‘bogged down’ in theological texts–I mean to say that I too often read them through my theology lenses and don’t let it fully hit home or just be a space for reflection and growth.

I have to say, the chocolate sales pitch is an effective one. He just might get me with it. Anyone else considering making this a part of their Lenten sacrifice?



  1. I do have to say, the book has me intrigued and I may be considering purchasing it!

  2. I’ve been in need of a personal retreat for quite a while. And chocolate’s okay, huh? Maybe I’ll give this a try!

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