“What are you giving up for Lent?” is a common question among us Catholics this time of year. This is far more than merely tradition, however. It is a way for us to move closer to our Lord and Savior as we walk with Him to the cross and, ultimately, celebrate His glorious resurrection.
As you contemplate the sacrifices you will make on behalf of our Lord, consider these reasons why this practice is so very valuable:
1. Fasting and self-denial brings us closer to Jesus, for Jesus tells us that if we are to be his disciples, we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him (Matthew 16:24).
“Fasting and other forms of self-denial, as spiritual practices of materially subduing and controlling the physical appetites of the body, helps us, by God’s grace, to enable the soul to more perfectly and freely pray,” says Deacon Michael Bickerstaff, Editor in chief and co-founder of The Integrated Catholic Life. “This leads to a deeper union with God and thus we become better stewards of the gifts God has given to us.”
2. It gives us greater appreciation of the suffering of Jesus while providing us even greater joy in his resurrection, according to the United States Council of Catholic Bishops. They state:
“If possible, the fast on Good Friday is continued until the Easter Vigil (on Holy Saturday night) as the ‘paschal fast’ to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily his Resurrection.”
3. We better understand the pain of those less fortunate, and therefore have greater empathy for them. In a Lenten message, Pope Francis writes:
“I distrust charity that costs nothing and does not hurt…whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God's voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of His love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades." He continues that, "We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people's pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else's responsibility and not our own."
4. It helps us renew our commitment to God. Neela Kale, a catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland and writer for the Catholic blog, Busted Halo, points out that Lent’s origins are based in the early days of the Church when converting to Christianity took several years of study and preparation, under the threat of Roman persecution. The final purification process was 40 days before baptism at Easter. The rest of the Church began to observe the season of Lent in solidarity with these newest Christians.
Today, it’s an opportunity for all of us to reset our focus on God. Giving up a small pleasure is means to accomplish this.
Of course, our spiritual journeys are as individual as we are. We provided just four reasons why it’s wise to fast and abstain from a favorite indulgence during Lent. We would like to hear from you why you choose to do so. What will you give up this year and why? Feel free to share in the comments. If you would like to have a deeper understanding of the role of self-denial in Christianity, we recommend reading Christian Fasting: Disciplining the Body and Awakening the Spirit.