Lenten fasting: ‘Why?’ more important than ‘What?’

| Jean Morehead | March 2, 2011 | 1 Comment

As Lent is quickly approaching, I can’t help but ponder and reflect about my participation in this season.

I have often been asked the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I usually respond, without hesitation, “coffee.” Truly, have you ever wondered how giving up something like coffee, chocolate or any other simple pleasure can help you get to heaven?

It doesn’t. Unless, you connect the “what” you are giving up with the “why.” So the true issue is not what I fast from, but rather why I choose to fast and make sacrifices.

I do it because Christ did it and I am to imitate him in all things. He doesn’t ask me to die on a cross, literally, but he does ask me to die to self.

He must increase, and I must decrease are the words of John the Baptist, who cried out to sinners to repent. I have to learn how to fight temptations and to avoid falling into sin, as well as control my passions. Who better to teach me this but Jesus?

For strength during times of temptation, Christ prayed. In order to keep focused on doing the Will of God, Christ fasted. I know that I have been set free from the enslavement to sin, but the possibility to sin remains. I have learned much from meditating on Christ’s suffering and death. I have come to understand that I must suffer with him in order that I may be glorified with him (Romans 8:17).

Spiritual workout

Lent is a time to focus and examine myself to see whether I am holding to my faith. What are my weaknesses? Where am I lacking in love? How am I living out my vocation as a wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend? I am grateful for this tradition because it motivates me to grow in love and deepen my faith in Christ.

Lent, for me, is a spiritual workout. For the sake of Christ I know that I am called to go beyond believing in him, to also suffer for his sake. I am invited to enter fully into the life of Christ, which includes his death. St. Paul said; “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”

I struggled with what this could possibly mean for quite some time. I heard a priest give a homily one morning that helped bring clarity to my understanding. What could possibly be lacking in Christ’s suffering? Me!

St. Paul said he rejoiced in his sufferings for our sakes, for my sake. I take this to mean that I can suffer for others, too. My prayers and sacrifices that I offer up during Lent, and always, can truly help others to know Christ and accept him into their hearts.

Even something as simple as denying myself that morning cup of coffee can have tremendous value when I unite it to Christ. He has invited me to do this work of redemption with him. What an honor! He doesn’t need me to do this, he gives me the opportunity. It is similar to God’s plan for the family. He does not need a father and mother to bring forth life; he invites them to cooperate with him.

He has given them the great privilege of becoming co-creators of life.

Growing closer to Christ

Lent is a reminder to me that I am called to put to death what is earthly in me and to put love in its place. I am referring to the attachments and passions that are controlling me and causing me to sin. Identifying them takes real effort, and making a plan to take back control takes sacrifice and prayer.

The task ahead of you is never as great as the power behind you. Christ is that power in our lives. Take the opportunity this Lent to deepen your relationship with Christ. Unite your sacrifices to his. Make this Lent your wake-up call and stay awake, for the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. Ready yourself to stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught by word of mouth, or by letter (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Jean Morehead, wife and mother of three children, is a member of St. Agnes in St. Paul.

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Category: Commentary