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Life beyond Chocolate

This Lent offer God what is truly preventing your heart from being his.
by Melicia Antonio | Source:
Few things in life can separate women of their chocolate. Let me think…perhaps a massive crop failure of cacao beans somewhere south of the border…or shocking new research that chocolate actually causes depression instead of repelling it…worse yet, a mysterious, dreadfully contagious, airborne chocolate allergy (if such a thing exists, medically speaking) could surface in a small Caribbean town and catch the next hurricane headed for a metropolis on the Atlantic coast.

Despite how hard it is to imagine, there is one time of year we women separate ourselves from this source of sanity and emerge still sane: the liturgical period of Lent. Yes, the traditional time to “offer something up” as mom used to say. That’s when the chocolate, and maybe a few other unnecessary things, are put out of sight (and hopefully out of mind) for forty days, with the intention of making a sacrifice.

Allow me this Lent to throw an intriguing question into the pot: a sacrifice for whom and for what? In other words, is chocolate really the most difficult sacrifice we can think of to give to God? Let’s face it. Sometimes there are mixed intentions: “I’m giving up chocolate and sugar (and losing a few pounds in the process)”, or “I’m restricting my use of the internet or TV (which I needed to do anyway because I waste my time with useless fluff). It doesn’t quite sound like the sacrifices of the Biblical times, when Israelites would journey to the temple in Jerusalem not to unload themselves of their crippled and ailing sheep, but to put to the knife the very best fatling of the flock, the one that would cause an interior tear to roll down the heart.

What’s a real sacrifice? Turning to the trusty Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read in paragraph #2100, “Outward sacrifice, to be genuine, must be the expression of spiritual sacrifice: ‘The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit’ (Psalm 51). The prophets of the Old Testament often denounced sacrifices that were not from the heart or not coupled with love of neighbor…” God, as our Creator and Father, demonstrates throughout Bible history that he can read the human heart intuitively. Read the stories of “failed” sacrifices: Cain’s rejected offering (Genesis 4), Saul’s disguised disobedience (1 Samuel 15), Jesus’ criticism of the rich Pharisees who gave alms from their excess wealth (Luke 21:1-4), and the pseudo-generosity of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-5).

God wants your heart first, not your offerings. For this to happen, offer him what is truly preventing your heart from being his. Remember that sin usually masks itself as what is good for you, not what is harmful, because otherwise you wouldn’t fall for it. Is there some habit, some attachment, some fatling or white rabbit that you actually don’t want to give up, but that God is asking for? Chocolate is something of a temporary sacrifice; you can chow down your chocolate bunny the second Jesus rises from the dead. How about the sacrifice that might actually change your way of thinking and acting? In other words, instill a new habit (i.e. virtue) in you?

Beware of making the fruit of your sacrifice the goal. Keep your eyes on God and his will. Sacrifice only has meaning in context of the relationship with God, just as cooking a dinner for two does not mean you plan to eat the food of two persons, but that you are expecting someone else to come for dinner and you have cooked the food that he likes. God is pure, good, and perfect, and he calls you to a total union with himself. His high expectations for you demand that you do a sincere self-examination and attack the root of your problems, instead of clipping off leaves and praying the dandelion will disappear.

Ask yourself if your Lenten sacrifice will cause the genuine metanoia that Christ wants you to experience. Here are a few tips for assessing if it can:

• Does this sacrifice make me a more Christ-like person?
• Are my intentions pure? Am I looking for any secret side benefits?
• Is this something I can do on a regular basis, every day if possible?
• Is this coupled with love for those who live and work with me?
• Do I find myself asking God for strength to do this? That’s a good sign: it means your progress is not your own doing, but primarily God’s grace working in you.

Get good advice on your sacrifice from your confessor and/or spiritual guide. Someone who knows what you have been working on and has been guiding your progress can help you discern if your sacrifice is under the bar or over the top. After all, another trick of the devil is to make you focus on a minor defect – what Jesus called “the speck”- when in reality there’s a plank to be removed. (Matthew 7:5)

Returning to the idea of chocolate, I am not denying it can be a difficult thing to give up. I suppose it will depend on how much you really are attached to chocolate…

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