What are you giving up for Lent this year?
“When you fast, see to it that you groom your hair and wash your face. In that way, no one can see you are fasting but your Father…who sees what is hidden and will repay you.” (Mt 6:17-18)
Years ago, at wonderful St. Andrew’s School, we kids would ask one another this question after Sister and Msgr. Hoerstman gave us a strong ‘sermon’ on the ‘shoulds’ of Lent. The response to this was usually the drawled out safe response of “caaandy,” followed by a heavy sigh, anticipating six long weeks of deprivation.
We counted the days until noon on Holy Saturday when Lent officially ended. Near noon, all the Catholic kids would gather in a nearby make-shift ball field and eagerly await the noon church bell to toll out the end of Lent. With one whoop, bats, balls, and jump ropes were flung into the air to let fall at will. Eager kids scrambled home to haul out shoe boxes of loot accumulated during Lent. The annual Candy Fest was on!
This seems amusing now, and maybe we missed the point, but it was OK for our age and times in which we lived. In the depression of the 1930s and early 1940s, candy was scarce anyway. Sometimes, though, it seems that a similar simplistic response is still given by maturing adults.
Maybe it’s time we rephrased the question from: “What are you giving up for Lent?” to “What are you giving for Lent? Christ doesn’t really care whether or not we eat sweets during Lent, or whether we enjoy a glass of wine. In the big picture these won’t matter. What will matter is whether or not we give someone something of ourselves with all the unconditional love we can muster- not expecting anything in return.
If we tell others what we’re ‘giving up’ during Lent (especially when they’re relishing that very thing) they’ll feel ‘less holy’ for enjoying it. It’s better to thank the cook and enjoy what’s there; there’s much less satisfaction. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are our traditional Lenten practices but are often interpreted too narrowly. In our maturing spirituality, we need to look for more meaningful ways to apply these to our adulthood.
Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are part of our everyday life anyway. During Lent, we work at sharpening our awareness of them in order to create new expressions for these in our life. In all three, we need to give up in order to give of ourselves to others for a greater good. We redirect our focus in order to discover fresh purpose for them in our life.
We combine these three into unique Love-gifts. We do this during Lent to live more fully in an “attitude of gratitude” to Christ for His Love-gift to us. By creatively giving these as Love-gifts, we’ll not simply endure the inconveniences of Lent.
In Prayer: we give some quality time to Christ in order to develop a more meaningful friendship with Him. Spiritual reading enriches our prayer-time. When we pray, we speak to God; when we read, God speaks to us. We do whatever deepens this relationship.
In Fasting: we give up something, but not necessarily food or drink. There are more important things to fast from than those. We can fast from gossip, too much television and other electronic media; from being critical, from self-righteousness, from procrastination, from excessive shopping, from complaining, etc. We each need to decide what is most meaningful for us to give-up so that we can give to our spiritual maturing something which will benefit ourselves and others. This is a signficant Lenten Love-gift.
In Almsgiving: we give of our time, talent, and treasure to someone who needs what we are able to give. Here too, we’ll have to give up something for this to happen, but the focus in on the Love-gift, not the deprivation.
Simply put, these practices of ‘Lenten-love’ with our focus on giving, rather than on giving up will provide a Lent blessed with energizing spiritual maturing which will have dynamic results the rest of the year. Then, when this Lent is over and the Risen Christ greets us anew on Easter Sunday, we’ll really experience the “abundant life” He promised to bring. All we need do is to concentrate on His dynamic Love-gift, and let His Risen Presence flow through us as we give His love, light, life, and presence to our world.