Lent begins this Wednesday and will last until April 12. That is a long and necessary time to prepare our hearts and minds for Easter, the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection and God’s sacrifice of His only begotten Son for our sins.
Each year during this season, I love to reflect on the well-known verse, John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That verse is so powerful! Since my own only son was born, this verse’s power has dramatically magnified. If I had to sacrifice Michael to save the world, I’m sorry, but the world would be out of luck! How many of us honestly would make that sacrifice?
How could we possibly thank God enough, or be worthy at all, of His awesome sacrifice?
The answer is: We will never be truly worthy, but God loves us deeply and simply desires an authentic, loving relationship with us. We are called to accept this desire for relationship in a special way during Lent through abstinence, fasting, and almsgiving (the giving of our time, talents, and money). The point of these 3 practices is to be penitential—atoning for our sins, leading to a change in our hearts so that we can accept our salvation and become closer with God.
Here is a reminder of some of the Lenten “rules”:
- Fasting (consuming one full meal and two smaller meals that together do not equal a full meal) is expected on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent of those ages 18-59. Those with illnesses such as diabetes and pregnant or nursing women are exempt. Certainly, those who are older or younger can participate, but they are not obligated to do so.
- Abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays is obligatory from age 14, unless there is a medical reason that would endanger the individual’s health. “Meat” is considered meat from land animals and birds. Fish, shellfish, and amphibians are permissible to eat, as well as food products derived from animals (eggs, butter, gelatin, broth). Some moral theologians argue that animal derived products and luxury seafood should not be consumed, but the Church officially allows it. Whether or not you consume these foods during times of fasting and abstinence depends on your own conscience.
- Along this same vein, the Lenten sacrifice—what you give up for Lent—also has to do with individual conscience. The Church does not really prescribe “rules” to follow for this practice, except to say that individuals should follow their conscience.
- Your Lenten sacrifice, if you choose one, should at least be done on the days of fasting and abstinence. Some people choose to take a break from their Lenten sacrifice on Sundays, since Sunday is not a penitential day, but that is not an official Church practice. Again, it depends on what your conscience tells you.
- Lenten sacrifice is about changing our hearts. We aren’t supposed to be the same person on Easter that we were on Mardi Gras. So, giving up chocolate for Lent hoping that your waistline will shrink doesn’t count. Giving up chocolate, giving the money you would have spent on chocolate to those in need, and praying that God will give you a generous heart through your sacrifice, does count as a true Lenten sacrifice. It doesn’t have to involve money, just a change of heart.
So, the question should be this: How will you allow God to change your heart this Lent?