Back in pre-kid era (also known as the "blissfully-naive" time period), I was attending a party during lent (I know, "party-during-Lent" is discouraged, but I was young) with a rowdy group of college students.
One of them asked me, "Do you want a burger or a hot dog?"
I answered, "I'm just having the salad actually."
He snorted, "A vegetarian, eh?"
"Nope," I replied, "I'm a Catholic, and it's a Friday in Lent."
"You actually do that? Why? It seem so pointless," he scoffed.
I attempted to respond effectively to his ignorance at the time; however, it gave me pause to question the why behind Lent and the Catholic concept of "sacrifice". After years of reflection and sacrifice, I feel as if I would have had a much better answer prepared for that college punk. Unlike some other religions, I have found that the Catholic faith is quite logical and there is always a why behind the ritual, rubrics, and rites. Unfortunately, I am not a great reader of Catholic apologetics, so most of my reflection comes from experience rather than research.
But my answer to the "Why do Catholics give up stuff?" can be summed up in a few different responses:
- Control- From Buddhists to Hindus, religions have often used fasting and sacrifice as a way to learn to control one's body. When one can learn to resist temptations that seem simple (meat or cell phone use), then when one is presented with a big temptation, one may be able to curb one's natural instinct to sin. Honestly, I think much of my self-discipline and will-power comes from this concept.
Could you resist eating this? She couldn't...
- Heightened Awareness- I have a tendency to eat the scraps off my children's plates and check my email sporadically throughout the day; when you sacrifice something for Lent, you MUST be aware of every morsel of food and every option throughout your day. You develop a heightened awareness of your decisions rather than mindless, unconscious choices.
- Breaking Bad Habits- Catholics often give up "vices" at Lent: chocolate, guilty-pleasure TV shows, Internet games, etc. Sometimes when you have 40 days without your addiction, you just don't ever go back to it. For example, I used to be addicted to Law & Order-- all of the versions. I was able to space out to hours of thrilling crime drama marathons (obviously this is pre-kids), but I gave it up for Lent ten years ago, and I simple didn't ever watch them again. (Now, this was not the case when I had an ill-fated "give up chocolate" attempt back in '97, I set my alarm for midnight on Easter to indulge in a chocolate bar in bed...)
- Developing Good Habits- Donating time to help people comes naturally to me; donating money to help people does not. Maybe because I have always been saving for something, but it has been very hard to part with my hard-earned money. One Lent, when I was in high school working as a waitress, I vowed to donate half of my earnings to the Church. It was awful at the time, but it helped soften the blow of tithing in the future. Whether you vow to pray the Rosary daily or attend daily Mass, good habits can also be a form of sacrifice during the Lenten time-- and follow you into "ordinary" times...
- Evangelism- Catholics aren't known for door-to-door proselytizing, but during Lent we are marked- literally- we get ashes on her head to symbolize our Catholicism. People ask us questions about why we give up stuff or what makes us Catholic. The sacrifices we offer up are noted by non-Catholics and it might make them curious about our dedication, faith, and values.
- Suffering- "Why would a religion want to teach you about suffering?" you might ask. Well, quite honestly, the world is full of suffering and if you don't learn how to find peace, understanding and even joy in those times, your life will be very unfulfilled. For example, after reading a description of the book All Joy and No Fun, I had an "Aha!" moment of "modern" parenting. People expect things to be fun--not hard, tiring, or painful. Learning to handle suffering enables one to respond to the calling of being a parent, rather than the "job". Learning to sacrifice for the sake of others is the purpose of being a human, especially a parent.
- Perspective- Ultimately our minimal "suffering" we undergo during Lent pales in comparison of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. Every Good Friday, I watch The Passion of the Christ as a reminder of the pain, suffering, and triumph of Easter. Being able to put your pain into perspective, viewing the positives rather than the negatives, refocuses you and helps you live Jesus's message of hope. This week a high school classmate passed away after a brave, two-year battle with cancer, and I was able to offer up my own minimal stomach-bug suffering for her soul-- and that gives me hope.
Easy Rule #59080- Learning the why behind your religion helps you develop a stronger Faith and makes it easier to make those sacrifices.
Easy Rule #4908- Unless you are a serious Catholic, don't give up chocolate. Some suffering might be too much for a mom.
And for all you March birthdays (Mom, Ems, Grace, Lissie to name a few....)
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Plus if you like my perspective on Sacrifice, how about taking your kids to Church?