What are you giving up for Lent?
Lent is just around the corner. It begins this Wednesday with “Ash Wednesday”. Lent is a season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to help prepare all of the faithful for the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ from the Dead. In the Latin Rite, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, continuing for 40 days (excluding Sundays) until Easter Sunday. Since the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Church has spent 40 days preparing for celebration of the greatest event in human history. The use of 40 days derives from Christ, who spent 40 days in the desert before He began His public ministry. However, the number 40 also relates to the 40 years of exile the Jews had to endure before coming to the promised land. John Hardon tells us in his Modern Catholic Dictionary that “According to the prescription of Pope Paul VI, in revising the Church’s laws of fast and abstinence, “The time of Lent preserves its penitential character. The days of penitence to be observed under obligation throughout the Church are all Fridays and Ash Wednesday, that is to say the first days of Great Lent, according to the diversity of rites. Their substantial observance binds gravely” (Paenitemini, III, norm II).”‘
During the season of Lent, it has become customary to “Give up” something in order to grow in holiness. When I was in high school, some of the youth would joke around saying “I gave up pre-marital sex for lent”. Obviously these people missed the point. Even if they may have given that up (which I highly doubt), they did not intend on changing their lives and growing in virtue and holiness. Many people will say stuff like “I’m giving up chocolate” or “I’m only going to have 2 coffees a day”. This is a start but it is not complete. In addictions counselling, people are taught that you must replace that which you are giving up with something else that is good. In so many ways, we are addicted to ourselves; our likes, dislikes, little vices, big vices. The things we love the most is what we surround ourselves with. However, truth be told, almost 90% of the things we surround ourselves with are not necessity, but simply wants that we equate with needs. We say things like, “I need a coffee” or “I need to just relax and watch TV”. We love stuff. I love stuff. Truth be told, I spend way more time in the social media realm than in prayer. This is a major fail on my part. Whatever it is though, I think many of find ourselves in places where we love ourselves way more than God. This is why the Church gives us Lent EVERY year. She wants to help us get our priorities straight.
The Church in her wisdom offers us the Trifecta of Lent (Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving) to help us grow as human persons, in our relationship with the Lord, and with one another.
Prayer teaches us to love God above ourselves, and in uniting ourselves to Christ through prayer, we are given grace to become the men and women we are called to be
Fasting and Mortification crushes our natural inclination and forces us to love God and others over even our sensual desires. It helps us place our wills “under our feet” as St. Therese of Lisieux says. The Catechism of the Council of Trent states:
But the body is to be mortified and the sensual appetites to be repressed not only by fasting, and particularly, by the fasts instituted by the Church, but also by watching, pious pilgrimages, and other works of austerity. By these and similar observances is the virtue of temperance chiefly manifested. In connection with this subject, St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says: Every one that striveth for the mastery, refraineth himself from all things; and they indeed that they may receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. A little after he says: I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest, perhaps, when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway. And in another place he says: Make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscence.
Almsgiving is all about serving others. It doesn’t necessarily mean you must go and drop off 100 cans of Campbell’s soup to the local food bank, but it means that you give your time, talent, and treasure to serve our brother and sisters, the poor and needy. This also doesn’t mean that you must serve those who are poor monetarily, but perhaps the poor in spirit. Perhaps you can go to a retirement home, or visit the sick in the hospital. Bringing the love of Christ to people is what almsgiving is all about. It could even mean going and visiting your own grandparents or elderly family members.
This Trifecta of Lent is spoken of in the Catechism of the Council of Trent (I love this book):
To prayer let us unite fasting and almsdeeds. Fasting is most intimately connected with prayer. For the mind of one who is filled with food and drink is so borne down as not to be able to raise itself to the contemplation of God, or even to understand what prayer means.
Almsdeeds have also an intimate connection with prayer. For what claim has he to the virtue of charity, who, possessing the means of affording relief to those who depend on the assistance of others, refuses help to his neighbour and brother ? How can he, whose heart is devoid of charity, demand assistance from God unless, while imploring the pardon of his sins, he at the same time humbly beg of God to grant him the virtue of charity ?
This triple remedy was, therefore, appointed by God to aid man in the attainment of salvation. For by sin we offend God, wrong our neighbour, or injure ourselves. The wrath of God we appease by pious prayer; our offences against man we redeem by almsdeeds; the stains of our own lives we wash away by fasting. Each of these remedies, it is true, is applicable to every sort of sin; they are, however, peculiarly adapted to those three which we have specially mentioned.
Obviously, this does not negate the need for the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession. However, united with Jesus through the Sacraments, we can effectively enter into Lent and give ourselves to Him and to others in their service.
So the question is not “What are you giving up this Lent” but “How are you going to love God over yourself, through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving this Lent?”
In the Immaculata,