I enjoyed Kathleen Thurber’s column “Make Lenten resolves count” very much because she touches upon some very important truths about the Lenten season. An important recognition is that we, as Americans, live in great abundance and surplus. That includes American Catholics, so when Lent rolls around, many times the Lenten sacrifices we end up making is only from our surplus, so, as Thurber pointed out, it’s really not a sacrifice. What this demonstrates on the part of most American Catholics is a lack of understanding on what constitutes “sacrifice” in the Lenten understanding of the word. Thus, while giving up chocolate for Lent may seem like a sacrifice to some folks, they are actually only giving up something that is surplus. What does giving up chocolate teach them, ultimately? That they can give up chocolate.
Does that put them closer to an understanding and appreciation for Christ’s life and his sacrifice on the cross (one of the purposes of Lent)? Let’s see, giving up chocolate versus dying on a cross. Spiritually speaking, it’s not much of a comparison, is it? I’m not at all suggesting that Catholics need to die on a cross to understand Jesus’ sacrifice, but that they can do more than merely give up from their surpluses. So what to do? Thurber’s column is a start. She highlights how often our sacrifices for Lent are actually “sacrifices.”
The next thing to learn is an understanding of what is meant by a sacrifice. While we fast and abstain during Lent, what else can we do? How about going to Mass on Sundays on a consistent basis? How about going to confession on a consistent basis? How about reading Scriptures and books on Catholic teachings on a consistent basis? Already doing all that? Then how about donating time to homeless shelters or making visits to hospitals or prisons? Already doing that as well? Then how about the following?
Instead of fasting and abstaining only when we have to, why not push it further? How about fasting and abstaining for the whole Lenten season, and offering up that sacrifice for a certain cause? In this land of plenty and surplus, that would be a very big, noticeable sacrifice to make. And by letting others know what you’re doing; they can help you and encourage you on your Lenten journey. The example that you set could inspire them to look at their own life and how they are living it.
Such a sacrifice would be a real eye-opener, not just for you, but for others around you. And this is only one example. There are other things that you can do, but anything you do has to come with an examination of your act – to test if you are truly sacrificing or if you are doing something equivalent of giving up chocolate.
The way to sort that out is to ask, “Will it hurt, or merely be an inconvenience?” Giving up chocolate, while it may seem painful for some, is actually only an inconvenience. However, fasting and abstaining for all of Lent will hurt – it won’t kill you, but it won’t be easy. That will be the test if you’re sacrificing, or just merely giving up from your surplus. Another indicator is how you’ve changed. After Lent, if all that’s changed about you is the measurement of your pants size, then your sacrifice was lacking; but if you had a change of heart, then you did the sacrifice right.
I thank Thurber again for a wonderful column that will make a person think about what it truly means to sacrifice during the Lenten season.
John P. Araujo, TCU Library