Monday, March 7, 2011

Do you sacrifice for Lent?

Creating a new heart within yourself is the focus of your efforts during Lent. You remember your own sinfulness and the efforts that God made to bring you back to Him. Lent is more than remembering to give, it is a time of self-sacrifice and cleansing.

Society may have changed, but human nature has not. The past methods toward holiness and theosis are applicable today, and as important as ever. Here is an article about the importance of self struggle, and how that tradition is important to human growth.

From Roma Locuta Est
By Jake Tawney

There is a trend that seems to be developing in discussions, online and otherwise, regarding plans for Lenten “penance.”  The Catholic Encyclopedia outlines in great detail the history of Lent and its intimate connection to sacrifice.  Lent is a penitential season and thus is inseparable from self denial.  However, there seems to be more and more people calling for “doing something extra” rather than “giving something up.”  Now, let’s not misconstrue my words: I have no problem with doing some extra to beef up our spiritual life during the season of Lent.  I myself have often called for people to take up the Church’s Liturgy of the Hoursand various spiritual classics during Lent.  But doing something extra should not replace the idea of self sacrifice.
Our local parish passed out Easter eggs at the end of Mass last weekend.  In each egg was a piece of paper containing an example of “something extra” as a Lenten activity.  It isn’t the egg itself that gave me pause, but the announcement which accompanied it: “Instead of giving something up for Lent, why not do something extra?  Pick up an egg after Mass ...”
John Campanelli of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, citing data from the USCCB and a Georgetown Universitystudy, reports that 38% of adult Catholics say they give up something for Lent, but 44% say they try to do something positive as opposed to giving something up.  The same column reports that only 6 out of 10 Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent.
While to social ills of our times are too varied to enumerate, it is clear that one of the underlying themes is a lack of self-denial and self-mastery.  We are an on-demand culture.  If there are two theme songs for our times, they have to be Frank Sinatra’s, “I Did it My Way,” and Queen’s, “I Want it All,” which refrains, “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now.”  It is no wonder that the practice of fasting has fallen by the wayside; and here I’m talking about real fasting, not just giving up snacks in between meals.  There is a virtue that comes with denying the self the pleasures of life, training the flesh to prioritize the spirit.
The Gospel of Christ is decidedly unique in how it solves the problem of suffering.  According to philosopher Peter Kreeft, suffering exists in the gap between desire and the inability to fulfill that desire.  Outside of Christianity, there have been two ways of dealing with this gap.  The ancient east seeks to bring the level of desire down, but the modern west seeks to bring the level of fulfillment up.  Christ forever changed the problem of suffering not by solving it, but by redeeming it.  He did not seek to eliminate suffering at all, but rather embraced it.  In other words, while the ancient east and the modern west have opposite ways of dealing with the problem of suffering, Christ turns the whole thing on its head.  As Christians, we are called to embrace suffering along with Christ.  What else does it mean to take up our cross and follow Him?  Self denial and self sacrifice are at the root of the human person.  Vatican II taught that man can only realize himself in an authentic gift of himself.  What does it mean to give of one’s self but to sacrifice, to empty the self.  The paradox of the Christian message is that in such emptying, in the giving up of the self, man actually finds himself.
The other phenomenon that seems to be prevalent in “What you should do for Lent” circles is giving up certain sins and vices, for instance swearing or gossiping.  Once more, let’s not misconstrue my words: I wholeheartedly endorse avoiding sin!  However, is this something regulated to the Lenten season?  An acquaintance recently asked, “If I give up cursing for Lent, can I still swear like a sailor on Sundays and the Solemnity of St. Joseph?”  He was kidding of course, but it does serve to drive the point home.  It is true that penitential seasons are a prime opportunity for spiritual inventory and works of virtue.  However, if the only thing that one gives up is a sin or a vice, I’m not so sure this is in the spirit of self denial and sacrifice.
Kick your spiritual lives in gear this Lent: yes.  Go to adoration, pick up some spiritual reading, make a commitment to work on that vice that has been a struggle for you.  But don’t lose sight of the penitential nature of this season.  Take up that lost practice of fasting - serious fasting.  Let the pangs of hunger serve to remind you of the cross and that your life is not your own.  Of course, it doesn’t need to be food.  I know people who give up the radio altogether for their long commute everyday.  The fast of silence can be deafening for those of us who are used to incessant noise.  Give up coffee, especially those of us who by any reasonable measure are addicts.  Whatever it is ... it should be something that hurts.
With that, I leave you with the words of Benedict XVI from his 2011 Lenten Address:
“Fasting, which can have various motivations, takes on a profoundly religious significance for the Christian: by rendering our table poorer, we learn to overcome selfishness in order to live in the logic of gift and love; by bearing some form of deprivation – and not just what is in excess – we learn to look away from our ‘ego’, to discover Someone close to us and to recognize God in the face of so many brothers and sisters. For Christians, fasting, far from being depressing, opens us ever more to God and to the needs of others, thus allowing love of God to become also love of our neighbor.”
And the striking call to spiritual warfare from the 1741 Encyclical Non ambigimus by his predecessor, Benedict XIV:
“The observance of Lent is the very badge of the Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of the cross of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should mankind grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.” 

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