Lent starts this week and that means we will be greeted by now-annual tradition from some quarters that “Lent isn’t really about giving things up – it’s about being nice”. Just yesterday I saw an article that pooh-pooh the whole notion of giving things up for Lent and said instead we should focus on being kind to others during Lent.
It is true that there are three things we are called to intensify during Lent – fasting, almsgiving and prayer – but the fact remains that in the Catholic Tradition, the focus of Lent has always been about sacrifice, specifically, increasing our sacrifices in union with the One Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. In our modern culture, there is little or no emphasis on the importance of sacrifice and suffering in the Christian life; we are bombarded with the message that Christianity is mostly about being kind to others. Lent just becomes an extension of this watered-down message.
But Lent specifically calls us to detach ourselves from this world by giving up the goods of this life. And in fact, by detaching ourselves from the things of this world, we are empowered to become more kind to others. Who do you think was more willing and able to help others – Mother Teresa or Donald Trump? The person who is weighed down by his physical desires – for food, for gadgets, for money – is less able to see the needs of others and to respond to them. But the one who has detached himself by choosing to give up the many goods of this world is able to truly be kind to others, serving them and putting their needs before one’s own needs.
So this Lent make an effort to really give up something that is difficult to give up. You may find that by doing so you will also naturally become more kind to others as well.