Thoughts On Lenten Sacrifice (A Modest Proposal)

St. Anthony the Great tempted in the Desert

I may be a newbie Catholic, but I have an idea about Lenten fasting that might alarm you. Ordinarily, see, we “give up” something pleasant for Lent. Then, at the end of the season, we once again indulge in whatever it was that we “gave up” in fasting.

What if we just went “cold-turkey” and never took up again that which we gave up for the Lenten fast?

Yes, you read that correctly. I am saying, what if every year at Lent we gave up something different, and walk away from it forever until, at the end of the line, we had nothing left to give up? You would probably be choosier on what you gave up, right? In a way, this would be like the character in the movie Brewsters Millions.

Before you go and write me off as a wacko on an austerity kick, think about the purpose of Lent. It is a time of repentance. A time for looking in the mirror and acknowledging our faults. Faults that we would like to walk away from forever. Surely I can think of one thing a year like this that I want to give up, and that I want to let go of forever. Hopefully, we are taking these kind of faults into the Confessional with us routinely.

Some people give up everything all in one shot, like St. Anthony the Great did (see portrait above), who gave up everything and headed to the desert.  Or like when some become a priest, for example, or a religious, you see, under the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. And yet during Lent, even these brethren are required to “give up” something too.

Perhaps I’m crazy, but as someone who is 49 years old I’m looking at, on the pessimistic side, giving up between eighteen (to age 67) and forty-eight (age 97, optimistic!) years worth of pleasant things, or habits, or practices that I hold dear. And this doesn’t include the very real possibility that I die in the next quarter hour, and thus have nothing left to give up anyway.

As for me, I’ve lived long enough to realize that the cluttered collection of “luxuries” that tie me down now number far north of the upper limit on that optimistic number “fifty” (to age 97!) that I’ve set for myself. And isn’t it true that day in, and day out, the clutter that keeps us from the Lord can build? I could probably add 50 new unnecessary items to my life in a year, if not in a month, if I let my unchecked desires chase after them.

But it is, after all, better to give than to receive. For example, for Lent during the first official year I was a Catholic (2008-2009), I decided to “give up” a portion of my lunch hour by going to daily Mass. The funny thing is, after six weeks of going to Mass daily that first year (on weekdays mind you), I continued going to daily Mass. Since a parish is close by, within walking distance of my office, I now can’t imagine not going to daily Mass for as long as I am able.

So, you see what I mean? That which I “gave up” really turned out to be a blessing that I received. Hmmm.

I bumped into the prophet Isaiah today and found these words on fasting from the Holy Spirit. To my mind, these thoughts (from Chapter 58) buttress my resolve to “give up” everything for the LORD, even if I do so only one year at a time. Take a look,

True Fasting

Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Tell my people their wickedness,
and the house of Jacob their sins.

They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the law of their God;
They ask me to declare what is due them,
pleased to gain access to God.

“Why do we fast, and you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”

Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.
Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!

Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed,
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?

Busted! Now, standby for 18 Lents/years worth of suggestions,

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly, (1)
untying the thongs of the yoke; (2)
Setting free the oppressed, (3)
breaking every yoke; (4)
Sharing your bread with the hungry, (5)
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; (6)
Clothing the naked when you see them, (7)
and not turning your back on your own. (8)

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!

If you remove from your midst oppression, (9)
false accusation and malicious speech; (10)
If you bestow your bread on the hungry (11)
and satisfy the afflicted; (12)

Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always and give you plenty
even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined homesteads.”

If you hold back your foot on the sabbath
from following your own pursuits on my holy day;(13)
If you call the sabbath a delight, (14)
and the LORD’S holy day honorable; (15)
If you honor it by not following your ways, (16)
seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice—(17, 18)

Then you shall delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will nourish you with the heritage
of Jacob, your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Lord, give me the strength to fast as you will. Amen

My blog neighbor Tom McDonald has a few ideas on how to work out your salvation through Lent. Check them out, as you may find them helpful too. Take a look at St. Gregory the Great’s Lenten hymn while you’re at it.

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  • SteveP

    A good proposal. Thank you.

  • Erin Pascal

    It’s always good to hear stories like this. I am happy for you and very proud of what you have done for yourself and for the Lord. I have thought about your proposal and I think it would be extremely difficult but not impossible. I will think of what I will “give up” and will start on it today. I know that the Lord will give me the wisdom and strength that I need for this.

  • Stephanie

    Great idea. In 1998 when I was a junior in high school, I gave up soda for Lent. After Easter, I tried to go back to it and my stomach could no longer handle it! I have been soda-free ever since and it was a great improvement to my health. Now I just drink water or tea. :-)

  • Jeannee Waseck

    You have a very interesting proposal here, my friend – one that Stephanie has done and which I realized in reading her comment I have also done, w/ sugar out of my coffee now … but the specific thing I was thinking about was my late, beloved father : he was a heavy cigarette smoker who every single year for Lent gave up smoking – cold turkey – until Easter Sunday. As a smoker myself now, one who thinks about his sacrifice every single Lent & cannot even imagine it (I’ve made it four days, tho never during Lent)!!! Anyone, one year during Lent, my mother happened to get up before him and as she was walking past, realized he had kicked his covers off, went to tuck him in – and was quite stunned to realize the bottom of his feet were a sickly yellow ;- She even turned on the light to make sure she was seeing things correctly! Possibly she may have even moved the lamp to right on top of his toes & all around his feet – I know she put her glasses on ;) “Artie,” she woke him up with all of this, “this is your last Lenten sacrifice on smoking – the bottom of your feet are yellow!” My father sighed, “So I’ll have to find something else next year,” rolled over, & went back to sleep – and he never smoked again!!!