The Lenten Question

Once more it’s that time in the liturgical year when there is one question on every practicing Catholic’s lips – “What are you giving up for Lent?”

We’ve all heard the fairly standard ones time and time again – chocolate, junk food, snacking between meals, soft drink, and the common one in recent years of giving up social media such as facebook. I’ve read a few articles recently that offer some more creative Lenten fare. Two of my favourites include What to Give Up for Lent: 25 Creative Ideas and What to Give UP for Lent: 20 Weird Ideas. I especially like the ones about not using the snooze button on your alarm or giving up your pillow, although they would be incredibly difficult! I also really liked the one about kissing the floor after waking up in order to learn humility. It especially appealed to me because there are so many stories I’ve heard of saints kissing the floor as an act of obedience and humility, and I actually planned to do this one myself, but so far this Lenten season I’ve only remembered to do so once.

I have to admit, although it’s only two days in I can already tell that Lent is going to be tough this year! Isn’t it funny how our environment or circumstances can have such a huge influence on our spiritual lives? I’ve mentioned before that I am the only practicing Catholic in my family. During Lent last year I was still living in Colorado, and although my Lenten practices were by far the strictest I have ever set for myself, following them was not as difficult as I would have expected. A big part of that were the senses of comradery and accountability that came with being surrounded by others who were making significant sacrifices for Lent, and being in such a strongly spiritual environment. Spiritually I got so much out of Lent last year, and by Easter I was completely on fire in my prayer life.

This year I am in much more of a secular environment, even at home and around my friends, and as I said, it has already been kind of tough. For example, both on Ash Wednesday and this evening (the first Friday of Lent) my mum brought home delicious desserts for me. It was really lovely and thoughtful of her… if only I could eat them. Wednesday was easier since I was required to fast, so everything apart from dinner was a no-go and dessert was not an option under any circumstances. But having those lovely desserts sitting in the fridge and freezer yesterday and today was so tempting – maybe I could change what I was giving up for Lent, or relax the rules I’d set for myself a little bit… Maybe I should just change my Lenten sacrifice to just things with chocolate in them instead of all desserts in general… I mean, there’s no point in going overboard and giving up more than necessary, right?.. Spiritual attack anyone?

So yes, the last few days have been TOUGH! You will be pleased to know that so far I have managed not to succumb to temptation, but thank goodness for Sundays! I know a lot of people accuse us Catholics of cheating when it comes to allowing ourselves to indulge in whatever we’ve sacrificed for Lent on Sundays, but when looked at in the right way it can actually be used as motivation to make a tougher commitment for the other days of Lent. I will tell you right now that if it weren’t for the psychological factor of knowing that I only have to wait another two days before I can indulge in a yummy chocolate or ice-cream, my Lenten commitments would have been downgraded less than 48 hours into the liturgical season! As it is, for now at least I am willing to continue with my commitments of no dessert, no chocolate, no soft drink and no sweet biscuits.

But wait, there’s more! The basis for being allowed to indulge on Sundays is actually biblical. In fact, it’s mentioned in three of the Gospels. Check out Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18-22, or Luke 5:33-39. As Christians, we celebrate the Resurrection, the coming of Christ the bridegroom, on Sundays, which is exactly why we go to church or Mass on a Sunday. Sundays are a celebration and a feast, and therefore we do not fast on a Sunday.

Good luck with keeping your commitments this Lent, and if you haven’t made any yet, remember that it is never to late to start. If you do happen to give in to temptation or forget your commitments at some point, don’t give up or be disheartened – it doesn’t mean you’re a failure or that there’s no point continuing with your commitment. It just means you need to take stock, pick yourself up and try again. The journey is more important than the destination, and your sacrifices will bear great spiritual fruit as long as you make the effort, even if you don’t always succeed. Whenever you’re feeling tempted, just pray to God for His divine assistance, and whenever you are finding it really hard, offer it up! God bless!

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