Starting today, people will pass by the dessert table in the cafeteria empty-handed, sit in the Cap Bar without coffee, stand at TGIT without beers and look for meatless options more often. It’s almost like another round of New Year’s resolutions.
Unlike the annual January restart, however, one’s Lenten sacrifice should have a deeper spiritual purpose.
We must ask ourselves: What are we intending to accomplish with our Lenten sacrifice? Is it just a sort of diet cleanse of sweets or alcohol, or does it have a more profound effect on our lives?
The roots of Lent can be traced back to the early Church fathers, who discussed times of spiritual preparation before Easter. They mentioned days of fasting and prayer ranging from one day to multiple days before the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Throughout the years, the requirements for Lenten sacrifices have changed. Earlier, more strict practices recommended fasting for all 40 days, including abstinence from meats and dairy products.
Over the centuries, the Church has relaxed those requirements to fasting only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstaining from meat on Fridays.
When looking at Lenten sacrifices, we need to look not only at the object of sacrifice, but also the intention behind it. A merely temporal reason, such as losing weight or becoming less addicted to caffeine, while good, is not directed toward the real significance of Lent: preparation and self-emptying for the coming of Christ.
The reason why one should give up something for Lent is because one cannot love both God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). It is a way to detach oneself from temporal objects and empty oneself to be filled with Christ on Easter. The ache that you feel in your stomach while fasting on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday is a physical reminder of the spiritual and psychological ache the Apostles experienced after Christ’s death.
The pang of sacrificing coffee, alcohol, warm showers or whatever you may choose makes more room for Christ in our lives. The emptiness of Lent is what makes the fulfillment of Easter so much greater.
The slackening of the requirements for Lent has decreased the contrast between one’s state before and after Christ’s resurrection on Easter. We need to renew a spirit of somberness, sobriety and sacrifice in Lent.
Although these words evoke a negative image in our society, with a Christian mindset, they represent the anticipation of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise. The season of Lent is somber because it reminds us of our spiritual weakness. It is sobering because it emphasizes the immediacy of the Gospel. Finally, Lent is sacrificial to remind us of our need, above all else, for Christ.
Be intentional with your Lenten sacrifice. Look to make a change that is more than physical. Give up something that ties you to the world, but do not end there. Look for a way to better your relationship with Christ.
If you do not, come Easter, your life will go back to normal, and all the physical suffering will be for naught. Easter has spiritual power in and of itself, but it is through the sacrifice of Lent that we come to understand its transformative significance in our lives.