Every year when the season of Lent rolls around, you can bet that many Catholic conversations find their way to “What are you giving up this Lent?”
With our kids, we talk about the big three Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We must not be doing a very good job because our kids still just want to know “What are you giving up?” We reduce our Lenten observance to a “painful” obligation to give up something. Too often, our focus, then, is on what I am doing rather than on what Jesus has done for me.
What do we think about when we give up chocolate? Usually, chocolate. Our fasting from chocolate just makes us want chocolate more. Our Lenten observance quickly becomes about the thing we are giving up - the thing we are fasting
. Our Lenten observance, which was intended to be about Jesus, becomes about chocolate.
What if Lent became less about “What are you fasting
?” and more about “What are you fasting
We fast for a deeper appreciation for the cross of Jesus. We fast for a deeper understanding of Jesus’ passion. We fast for a lived experience of denying ourselves for the sake of following Jesus, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” Luke 9:23.
Fasting is an intentional way to deny ourselves. Fasting is inviting a little suffering into our lives to draw us closer to the suffering of Jesus. In this fasting, in this intentional suffering, in this Lent, what is it all ultimately
? It is all
the hope of the resurrection.
St. Paul encourages us to embrace suffering because it leads to hope:
"We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5
Our Lenten practices, especially fasting, can be considered little sufferings for the sake of a greater gift that has been given. We do not fast to earn grace or to earn resurrection. We fast to connect with the gift of God that has been given.
Have you ever noticed that a great meal tastes so much better when you are really hungry? Why does food taste so much better when we are very hungry? Has the food changed? No, we have changed.
The greatest gift in the world is Jesus Christ himself. He does not change, but by intentionally praying, giving and fasting, we become hungry for Jesus. When we are hungry for Jesus, we appreciate the gift that he is and we enter more deeply into Jesus life, death and resurrection.
That’s worth fasting FOR!
So when people talk about abstaining from meat on Fridays or fasting from certain foods, this is a great opportunity to share the FOR!