Lent can become a spiritual smorgasbord, fulfilling the cravings of our souls, but only if we rise above the level of seeing Lent as a time only for 'giving something up.
Just when football season finishes up and baseball hasn’t thrown in the first pitch, we find ourselves in Lent with few or no distractions at all, at least from the wide world of sports. It is almost as if there is some All-knowing, All-powerful being behind it all.
Often the onset of Lent is accompanied by the resigned, “Well, what am I going to give up this year?” attitude. When I was a kid, my brothers and I would often joke about giving up peas, Brussels sprouts, and homework. We didn’t realize that God pulls the “switcheroo” on us when we are generous enough to offer Him things that really are a sacrifice. We give him something that is costly to us and he gives us much more in return. All of a sudden, Lent can become a spiritual smorgasbord, fulfilling the cravings of our souls.
Still, it is important not to remain on the level of seeing Lent as a time only for “giving something up.” True, it might be a perfect opportunity to lose some of the pounds gained over the holidays, but it is the spiritual flab that really weighs us down. Instead of giving up the annual chocolate or potato chips, (only to scarf down a couple pounds of either on Easter Sunday) we could work on getting into spiritual shape by forming “attitudes of holiness,” to coin a phrase.
For example, we live in a society that fosters the mentality that “if it is difficult, there’s got to be something wrong.” But is this attitude in line with our faith? We only need to look as far as the Gospel to find the answer. Christ had difficulties, Christ suffered, and he forewarned all those who would come after him that they would suffer as well. We can have the habitual attitude of questioning God when we suffer difficulties or personal tragedies. Does he really know what he is doing or does he really want to answer our prayers?
It would be a great Lenten resolution to form the habit of practicing our faith when these moments arrive. Instead of thinking that something must be wrong, we can learn to look with the eyes of faith and see that through hard times and sufferings God gives us the opportunities to grow in needed virtues and purify our love for him. Perhaps we have struggles at home or with co-workers. “So and so” is annoying, or Mr X has to have everything his way. If we form habitual attitudes of holiness we will see these situations as opportunities from God, served up on a silver platter, to grow in kindness and patience.
The Church, as Mother and Teacher, gives us this time of Lent to prepare ourselves to relive the greatest mystery the world has ever known, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Son of God for our salvation. We can arrive to Easter Sunday looking for the box of chocolates or the bag of greasy potato chips. But growing in our spiritual lives by cultivating attitudes of holiness, that is trust in God and charity toward others, would be a much greater accomplishment. Br Allan Wirfel, of the Legionaries of Christ, studies for the priesthood in Rome. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.