Agnes smiled as she recalled, “When we were kids, we gave up candy during Lent.” She explained, “If we were given candy, we put in a jar to be saved as a treat on Sunday afternoons or after Lent was over.”
I’ve never been very good at sacrificing the things I like and want. I tell my family, “I’m a spoiled pussy cat.” I chuckle to myself because as a child I had wanted to be a human cat. I imagined myself having fun playing, being petted, and being idle, stretched out on the sofa. The sacrifice I didn’t want to make to be a cat, was the human ability to talk.
Parents make sacrifices every day without thinking about it. Some sacrifices are huge and heroic, while others are small, humble, unnoticed ones. I remember my Mom serving dessert at Sunday dinner. She made sure she got the cracked or chipped dish. Her serving was very small if there wasn’t enough to go around, usually the first serving that crumbled and didn’t look as nice. She tried to give the family slices of pies and cakes as pretty as those featured on the covers of her woman’s magazines.
Every Ash Wednesday our parish priest announced in his homily, “During Lent we are all called to fast, pray and give alms!” Nothing could be clearer on how to observe a sacrificial season. The catch comes in remembering to eat less, by-passing the rich food we prefer, taking the time to pray every day and budgeting for more charity.
Why fast? What possible difference does it make if I eat cake or do not eat cake? Our culture insists people grab all the pleasure they can before the opportunity is lost.
If there isn’t a theological reason behind the sacrifice, the only outcome from eating the cake or not, is whether I lose weight or not.
The word sacrifice in the bible comes from a Hebrew word whose root means, “to be brought near”. I like the idea of drawing nearer to God by eating less, praying more frequently, providing food to the poor and the word of God to the spiritually starving. This is true love. How appropriate it is this year that Lent begins on Valentine’s day.
Before Lent, people ask, “What are you going to give up this year?” Common answers are, “Coffee, chocolates, eating between meals, candy.” A few brave souls even give up watching television. My sacrifice this year will be different from other years.
Jesus told his disciples they should not wear sack-cloth and ashes to let the world know they were fasting. Fasting, abstaining from desirable things as a sacrificial offering, should be a secret between themselves and God. It should also be a joyful offering.
I have read about and admired the lives of several saints. I once thought becoming a saint was impossible for the average person. But according to Mother Theresa, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” In the same vein, St Therese of Lisieux said souls can be saved in our offering up a sacrifice as simple as picking up a pin.
The example set by all the saints makes me aware of how spiritually important it is to see Christ in those around us. I can do things as simple as smiling at strangers to make them feel accepted, opening doors for those struggling with canes and walkers or visiting lonely, elderly neighbors.
It is my hope and plan to hone my art of sacrifice this year by making Lent more intentional and prayerful.