Lent is just around the corner. Usually, at this time of the year, we hear (or ask) the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” a lot….and that’s a valid question; it should spark us to reflection and prayer on where God is calling me to go deeper into relationship with Him and how He is challenging me to flex my spiritual muscles a little more, upping the weights so to speak. But, if you’re anything like me, a lot of years, my response is not prayerfully considered; I haven’t spent time in the Adoration Chapel asking the Lord what He wants me to do (or not do) this season; rather, instead, there’s usually a knee-jerk reaction that revolves around one of a few pat responses, often involving the heart-felt, if not terribly spiritual, personal sacrifice of chocolate, social media, or coffee. It is entirely possible that at this late stage of the game, I have not even begun to think about, much less really pray about, what my Lenten sacrifice will be. In fact, as I’m writing this article Lent is a mere two weeks away and this is truthfully the first time I’ve considered “what I’ll do (or not do)” for this year.
What is the purpose of giving something up for Lent? Why do we Catholics do this? Well, if you’ve been following along with Bishop Boyea’s videos before Mass each week lately, then you know that he’s been talking about sacrifices and how they help us in our spiritual life. The practice of mortification (the big, fancy word for this) is important in our faith-life because it does, as I alluded to previously, help us to strengthen our spiritual muscles. We’ve recently seen the Olympics play out once again and one thing you already know, even if you aren’t a sports fan, is that no one expects to make it to the Olympics without work. Those athletes train long, hard hours. They are rough on their bodies, sometimes almost to the point of abuse, in order to sculpt them into the machines that they need to be in order to compete at that level. It can be brutal, I’m sure. But, in the end, they have strengthened their muscles, increased their endurance, and perfected the practice of their sport. This is what mortification does for us, as well.
Sure, giving up chocolate has obvious results for an athlete, but how does that help me grow in relationship with God? I mean, really, does God care if I have a piece of candy? Honestly, no. He doesn’t. But, denying that piece of candy does make a difference in me. We, mankind, are both physical and spiritual beings. God created us to experience the world, and Him, through our senses as well as our souls, and what we do with one component of our being affects the other! This is huge and often misunderstood. Denying myself a chocolate not only has repercussions on my physical being, but also on my spiritual being. It begins the process of strengthening that spiritual muscle through the practice of selfdenial, because if I can’t say “no” to the little things, and no matter how much we love chocolate it is a little thing, then how can I ever hope to say “no” when big temptations come my way? The temptation to take what isn’t mine, to cheat on a test in school, to lie, to sleep in on a Sunday morning, or whatever else I may be faced with… much like I cannot ever hope to be in the Olympics without a lot of training, I cannot expect to resist future temptation without training myself to say “no” here and now. This may all seem very elementary, but it is so important to remember why we do the things we do. We don’t give up candy because God is concerned about our nutritional habits, but because through that small sacrifice we learn to make bigger ones, we learn to resist greater temptations, and we learn to lean on Him when we are struggling. What about that leaning on Him component? The flipside to the “what are you giving up for Lent” coin is the “what spiritual practice are you picking up for Lent” question. While giving something up is good, beginning or increasing a faith-habit is better. Bumping up that daily prayer time from 20 minutes to 30, signing up for an hour at the Adoration Chapel, reading the daily Scriptures, or praying with a friend/spouse at least a few times a week, or whatever habits draw you closer to Christ are all beneficial to our training and will give us the strength to continue on the marathon of life’s journey.
Whatever you drop or pick up for Lent, let it be something that builds up your core, increases your spiritual endurance, and brings you closer to the perfection that God has created you for. Finally, if I may humbly remind myself through these words, take this Lenten offering & practice to prayer and not just thought. Where is God asking me to push a little harder? What does the Holy Spirit want me to offer up? How is Jesus reaching out to me for deeper friendship this Lent?
Coordinator of Sacramental Preparation