What’s Your Lenten Temperament?


Personality Temperament

We are not yet half way through Lent, so it’s a good time to take stock. Don’t be discouraged: it’s not too late to get back on track!

Lent is made for melancholics. Melancholics take a peculiar kind of pleasure in difficult Lenten sacrifices. My husband, for example, gave up coffee for many Lents. It was a real cross for all of us. He would be cranky, tired, and (like Dory the forgetful fish in Finding Nemo) never remembered why he always felt as though he were coming down with the flu the first few days of Lent.

I finally convinced him to consume at least some caffeine in the form of tea. But that small concession grated against his purist philosophy of Lent. Melancholics relish the challenge of 40 days, they wear their ashes proudly on Ash Wednesday and embrace the penitential season. They would wear sackcloth if they could.

If they accidentally eat a small bite of meat on Friday, they will take themselves severely to task and then immediately go to Confession. They don’t believe in taking Sundays and feast days off. More mortification! Long suffering! That’s the spirit!

Sanguines like to remind their melancholic friends that Lent does not include Sundays and there are important feast days that offer respite to Lenten mortifications: St. Patrick’s Day, St. Joseph’s and, of course, the Annunciation. If the Annunciation falls on a Friday in Lent, the sanguine will remind everyone that it’s not only permissible to eat meat, it is a required day of feasting and rejoicing!

Sanguines often struggle to maintain consistency throughout Lent. One sanguine I know chose a different sacrifice each week. That was an achievable goal, as opposed to giving up sweets for the entire 40 days.

Pope John Paul the First described the choleric as one who, upon seeing a sheer cliff, would pronounce: “A cliff like this is made to be overcome!” and then would attack it like his mortal enemy. This is how the choleric attacks Lent, too. He sets a goal and then ferociously charges up that cliff. If he doesn’t reach the summit, he won’t waste any time beating himself up about it. There are other mountains to conquer!

The phlegmatic takes his time when choosing a Lenten sacrifice. He wants to be sure it’s something he can accomplish – it’s neither too drastic nor too easy, it reflects the proper spirit of Lent and will not inconvenience anyone else in his family or at work.

On second thought, perhaps instead of giving something up, he muses to himself, he should do something positive and charitable. He then ponders what that might be: not something too drastic, certainly nothing showy or flashy, yet something beneficial that will properly manifest the Lenten spirit. If, by this time, Lent is not over, the phlegmatic will ploddingly and steadfastly work to achieve his Lenten goal.

During Lent we call to mind the 40 years the Israelites wandered the desert, totally dependent on the mercy and grace of God. We meditate on the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent in prayer and fasting in the wilderness, tempted by the devil. And he tells each of us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). Whatever our temperament, Lent is a beautiful time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, leaving the attachments of this world so that we might grow closer to Christ.

It’s not too late to begin anew.



  1. Tammy F. March 29, 2011 Reply

    Larraine…..I love this article — I’m going to send this to my kids and husband! (I think you were talking about us!).

    • Ria-570234 March 29, 2011 Reply

      How perfect, Larraine! Good job ~ and an excellent perspective!

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