Life may be like a box of chocolates … but the upcoming Season of Lent is not supposed to be all about giving up those chocolates for 40 days.
Too often, this season of conversion, penance, fasting and prayer, is reduced to a single question: “What are you going to give up for Lent?”
And so, we proceed to give up something because “it’s bad for us” or “might help us kickstart a healthy lifestyle (and if we lose a few pounds, great!).”
If that’s why you are giving up chocolate, you’re missing the point.
The point is to abstain from those things that we choose to lean on, rather than leaning on God for our every need. Who knows, perhaps that is indeed chocolate, or television or Facebook.
Personally, I don’t give up Facebook and other forms of social media because that has become a primary method of evangelization in the world – not to mention keeping up with friends and family, which is also part of life. But if you use social media for other things, carry on with your sacrifice.
Instead, I might suggest flipping it around and being more proactive in your Lenten commitment. Maybe you should commit to an extra hour of Eucharistic Adoration every day. Or pray the Liturgy of the Hours, a daily Rosary or go to Mass every day.
By boosting our prayer lives and deepening out faith one extra hour each day, we are in effect “giving up” an hour we might have spent doing something mindless, with little value beyond a quick bite of comfort pie.
Can you do that for 40 days?
It won’t be easy and chances are, you will fail. Trust me … I’m a longtime member of the “Lenten Failure Club.” But I try. And I will try again this year.
Thankfully, we have an excellent first reading in today’s Liturgy from the opening chapter of James to help us put things in perspective.
Consider it all joy … when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
With Ash Wednesday just a few days away, it is good to be reminded by James that it’s important for us to enter the coming 40 days not just with a spirit of sacrifice and humility, but also of wisdom and perseverance.
James, who authored this letter sometime in the first century (the 60s, perhaps), drops this reference to endurance in our faith in the opening chapter – but then revisits it again in Chapter 5.
Skip ahead a few pages in your Bible and read James 5:7-11 …
It is here that James stresses the virtue of patience in our lives – especially our faith lives. Be patient until the coming of the Lord … the way a farmer is patient with the fruits growing on the trees.
Patience is something we seem to have lost as a society. In a world where controversies arise with a single Tweet, debates are carried out one paragraph at a time before it all dissolves into old news before sunset – who has time to be patient?
And yet, sometimes it takes all 40 days to recognize and experience the spiritual fruits of our Lenten labor.
Our prayer as we head into Ash Wednesday this week is that those fruits include a renewed sense of faith in everything that we do.
Faith needs to be more than just a theory or an abstract thought to be pondered on a Sunday morning, then conveniently packed away for the week.
Faith needs to be implemented in our daily lives. Soaked into our hearts, minds and souls.
Yes, we should wear our faith on our sleeves … and ashes on our forehead!
Persevere … even when you begin to wonder and second guess yourself.
“What’s the point?”
“It’s been a week (or two) and I don’t feel any different.”
“Is this thing working?”
Seek out the ways in which you plan to observe Lent, but do not desire a sudden bolt of lightning or some other sign that you have won God’s favor.
That’s what the Pharisees seemed to be wanting from Jesus in today’s Gospel from Mark. They wanted a sign … but there was no sign coming to that generation. And there will be none of our generation, either.
This Lenten season, don’t go looking for signs. And don’t just settle on giving up a box of chocolates.
Take advantage of this rich, deep and sometimes dark season of penance in order to break yourself down to your very core – the way Jesus was broken down with the cross on his shoulders.
Persevere and know that He will come again on Easter Sunday, bringing His light, joy and unlimited chocolate bunnies back into your life.