“I’m giving up giving something up.” – said almost all Catholic children who grew up in families that observed Lent.
“Give up, give to, and give in.” – said the saints.
I remember saying that first line at least a few times when I was a kid… I also claimed I would gave up asparagus, brussel sprouts, beets, cabbage, spinach, broccoli and almost every other vegetable I hated. I was doing what many kids do – trying to play the ‘rules’ to my favor. It was immature, but it was a part of growing up that many of us go through. Thankfully my parents [along with most parents] saw through my plan and held me to a real fast from something I actually liked.
Fasting became even more important, challenging and fruitful in the seminary and the monastery. It was there that I stopped seeing it as a bar set too high that I wanted to pull down to a less challenging height – instead, I realized, Lenten fasting is part of the field of discipline on which we disciples run and in which we “add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will ‘with the joy of the Holy Spirit [1 Thess 1.6]. In other words, let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing” (Rule of St. Benedict, 49).
So instead of giving in to the temptation to give up giving something up, perhaps try what St. Benedict suggests: Give up, give, and give in.
GIVE UP – something for Lent: something that you enjoy so that you suffer [even if only a little] and thus do penance and enter into solidarity with those who go without through no choice of their own; or give up something bad that you’ve needed to give up for a loooonnnggg time!
GIVE – typically if you fast from something, there is a resulting surplus. Perhaps you give up certain expensive foods, drinks or tobacco – that means there’s some money resulting from that… money that can be given over to buying coats for kids, paying for heating bills for the elderly, supporting Catholic Charities in their many ministries, or however you and your family choose to be charitable. At most monasteries, the money saved from extra fasting and abstinence is donated to external charitable works. Maybe you’ll give up time on the internet, watching tv or other recreational activities – the surplus time can then be given in charitable action… maybe to a program in your area, or to individuals who could use your time and affection.
GIVE IN TO GOD – Prayer takes countless forms… however we pray, Lent is a great time to cooperate and converse with God in such a way that “praying without ceasing” becomes not the goal of our spiritual life, but the ground or canvas of each day.
I’ll stumble several times this Lent, if my past Lents are any indication, perhaps you will too. If you fall down, get up… That’s what Jesus did when he carried the Cross for us. Falling is by no means my goal, but I’ve often found that falling in my fasting is where Jesus teaches me the most because that’s when I realize “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.”
May God bless you all with a joyful and fruitful Lent so that you may welcome Easter – both the one coming up and the one of the Last Day -with joy-filled longing.
~ Fr. Joe Reed is the Associate Pastor at Sacred Heart Cathedral and Director of Vocations, Diocese of Knoxville.