By: Bradley Opitz
In recent years the season of Lent has taken on a new meaning in my life. When I was in high school, I could remember sitting with my Catholic friends at lunch and listening to them talk about what they were going to give up for Lent. They would talk about giving up things like candy, or only drinking water for the duration of the 40 days. Others would give up listening to the radio or music in the car, while some did not even realize that Lent was quickly approaching and they knew they were unprepared for that particular lunch conversation. I was the kid who was unprepared. I wanted to be original with what I was to give up but at the same time I had no good ideas. So, like the kid in home room quickly finishing his homework before it was due in first period, I would feel rushed to come up with any small sacrifice before Ash Wednesday. Some years my sacrifice was forgotten and abandoned like a new year’s resolution to exercise.
Looking back on the past few years, I can tell a major difference between the years that I thought through my Lenten sacrifice and when I just sacrificed because everyone was doing it. The difference was, when I thought through my sacrifice, by the end of the 40 days I was prepared for Christ’s victory in my life when Easter came. For 40 days, I was reminded that of Christ’s call to his disciples. “Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (Luke 9:23). For us to embrace suffering, as Christ calls us to, is to choose between the temporary and the eternal. In other words when we choose to suffer or when we unite suffering to the Cross, the temporary is made eternal. It is given meaning and it works towards us, gaining perfect joy in the victory that death no longer has over us. This is the reason for the season of Lent.
The Church asks us to keep in mind three things during our preparation: Prayer, Fasting and Alms Giving.
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret… Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” –Matthew 6:5-6, 8
In prayer we unite ourselves to God. We are able to communicate to him and He is given an opportunity to communicate back with us. Notice how I said “He is given an opportunity”. God is always doing something with us. Most of the time the posture of our heart may be distracted or not in a spot to receive. God wants us to receive what He has for us. Through prayer we are able to take a posture in our hearts of reception. Through receiving we are able to give back to God everything, even our suffering.
“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” – Matthew 6:16-18
Fasting is the simplest form of constantly being reminded of God’s presence in your life. “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). When fasting, our hunger continually calls us to holiness. We give ourselves to God and proclaim that through suffering we are united to the will of God in a powerful way. During Lent we fast on Fridays, only eating a simple without meet.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroys, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” –Matthew 6:19-21
Money has a counterfeit power over people. It is a manmade tool of almost endless quantities and people, in general, value it higher than God. In other words, money cannot us save us, cannot give us victory over death, provide us with wisdom, tell us the meaning of our life or even change the world. Instead, money is what it is, a tool. What we have belongs to God first before it belongs to us. During the season of Lent we are given the opportunity to detach ourselves from material things and help those who cannot help themselves, the poor. God favors the poor. They depend on him to give them what they need. Through the giving of alms we take part in the mission of God by being God’s hands and feet and become servants of the savior with all things.