Lent? I give up
Over the years I have tried a lot of different options in my attempt to have a fruitful Lent. I have given up things like specific foods and even food groups, the snooze button, television, music, and many other things.
I have also added things to my routine like more prayer time, extra Masses during the week, going to Adoration, reading the Bible more, or praying a daily Rosary. This year I think I am going to try something new. I am going to give up myself.
Before I get into that, let’s talk about the purpose of Lenten practices. At the heart of all the giving up and doing extra things is an attempt to grow in holiness. As “Lumen Gentium” says in Chapter 5, “The Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’ (I Thes. 4:3; cf. Eph. 1:4).”
We are all called to grow in holiness. Notice I used the verb “grow” — it is a word that implies movement, not stillness. Holiness is a journey, not a destination. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about holiness: “Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ” (CCC 2014).
So, basically, we are all called to continually grow closer to Jesus. Our Lenten practices ideally help us achieve this goal. Thus, my decision to “give up myself” is how I plan to grow closer to Jesus this year.
What I mean by giving up myself, put simply, is to give up my preference for things and the way things happen in my day. I want to give up striving for things to be “my way or the highway” and I want to defer to others. This will probably take many forms. I will attempt to be more courteous when driving and let vehicles in ahead of me when traffic slows down. I will sit in the middle of the pew at Mass and leave the ends for people who actually need it (like late arrivers, or families with children, or people serving at Mass). I will do my best to accommodate others’ time schedules even when I am inconvenienced.
So, basically, when I can, I will allow the preferences of others to supersede my own. I say “when I can” because I do not think the Lord wants me to skip work for 40 days to take care of everyone’s preferences, nor does God want me to have everyone’s preferences for how I use my bank account determine my finances during Lent. I expect to be inconvenienced, not kicked out of my house for misappropriation of family funds.
I was drawn to this idea when I recalled a homily I heard years ago from Father Raphael Eagle, TOR. He said you know how much you love by how much you sacrifice. Sacrifice much, you love much. If you sacrifice a little, you love a little.
This definition of love has always been very challenging to me. So, this Lent I want to love more, thus I am going to sacrifice more.
One of the abiding images of Lent is to walk with Jesus on His way of suffering, and the purpose of our Lenten practices is to help us achieve this to some degree. My day-to-day life is pretty much on my own terms. Thus, this Lent I hope to die to myself, my whims, my preferences, and in doing so draw closer to Jesus, who is the model of self-sacrifice.
The depth and severity of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is what makes His resurrection so powerful. The deeper the sacrifice, the more profound the love. Thus, the more serious and devout we can enter into this Lenten season, the greater and more meaningful will be our celebration on Easter Sunday.