Lent: the season of preparation. People tend to equate that preparation with the
dreaded sacrifices they practice throughout Lent, and so they take extra care to pick the “perfect” Lenten offering for the year. But sometimes even the hardest, most creative sacrifices don’t seem to help us grow in our love for God. Committing to a fast from some good for 40 days isn’t a small deal, so it’s important to prepare for that preparation. Too often Lenten sacrifices are treated like an extra New Year’s resolution, and so well-meaning people might choose what they will do based on what they can get out of it, physically or even spiritually. They certainly can give us those benefits, but those should not be the deepest reason why a person would practice a particular penance. Before you decide what particular sacrifice or practice you will take on this year, remember what ought be the source of the sacrifice. Of sacrifices, the Catechism says:
Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, “sackcloth and ashes,” fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance. (CCC 1430)
We should not pick a practice based merely on how hard or easy it is to achieve, or even based on a physical or spiritual “goal.” If penance is to bring our hearts closer to God, then it should resemble a prayer more than anything else. And this prayer is primarily one of conversion, of a turning away from sin to Love.
Before coming up with your own ideas for your Lenten fast, make an examination of conscience. Recognize your personal addictions and prisons, and your inability to conquer them without grace. Then make an act of contrition, and resolve to continue your journey with increased openness and trust in God’s grace to make you a saint. From this state of mind, you can then decide on a penitential practice, denying yourselves pleasures as a sacrificial gift to the God who has so much more often been denied.
There is nothing wrong with giving up dessert, computer time, secular music, or other common sacrifices. These are common sacrifices for a reason; they aim directly at the pleasures of the flesh. In fact, sometimes they can be a perfect choice of sacrifice because of their simplicity. Don’t aim at something that you know will be torture, but still be generous. Remember that conversion is the center of the physical manifestation of your sacrifice.
Start with Christ, that you may walk with Christ, die with Christ, and finally rise with Christ.