Lent is a time we set aside each year to remember how God showed his love for us by sending his his Son, Jesus Christ, to the Cross for our sins. It's a time when we acknowledge Jesus Christ's sacrifice by offering ourselves sacrificially in some way, acknowledging our sinfulness, performing penance, and pledging renewal.
It's also a time of year when we search our daily lives for something "to give up." While this should be done in a spirit of sacrifice, it's often done in a spirit of what's best for us. We give up the donuts hoping to lose weight. We cut back on our favorite alcoholic beverages to cut the calorie intake. And for those who still smoke, it's a time to be good to the lungs.
And we don't just give up things, we make a point of broadcasting our efforts.
"What are giving up for Lent? I'm giving up (blah, blah, blah)."
"How about you? I'm giving up (blah, blah, blah)."
Remember what Matthew tells us in his gospel about the Pharisees. "They do all their deeds to be seen by others." (Matthew 23:5)
Offering Ourselves through Fasting and Giving
Lent is also a time of year when we offer ourselves up through fasting. This spiritual discipline dates back to the Old Testament. Christian fasting is refraining from food for spiritual purposes and edification. But we are also told in Scripture it is a time for GIVING.
Consider what the writer tells us in Isaiah Chapter 58, about GIVING of ourselves and our resources as a kind of fasting.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?" (Isaiah 58:6-7)
By fasting, we look inward at our sinfulness and weaknesses in a way that stirs us to look outward towards God in a spirit of penance and renewal.
The Lenten spirit should also be a way of life, certainly one of giving up. But also a life of GIVING, a life of dispensing our Christian love through giving of our time and other resources.
In God's Words
"For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6)
"To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice." (Proverbs 21:3)
"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
"Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." (Hebrews 13:15-16)
In the Word's of Others
"Fasting makes sense if it really chips way at our security, and as a consequence, benefits someone else, if it helps us cultivate the style of the good Samaritan who bent down to his brother in need and took care of him." Pope Francis
"Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy, if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others, you open God's ear to yourself." St. Peter Chryosologus