Catholics are called to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent and Ash Wednesday. We are also called to fast (eat only 1 meal or two small meals in one day) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In addition the custom is to pick something in our own lives to “give up” for the 40 days of Lent. Today I want to talk about why we do.
The theories on why Catholics don’t eat meat (but can eat fish) vary from the spiritual to the conspiracy. People say some outlandish things on this topic! Regardless of the history of these Lenten traditions, the purpose is consistent. Jesus commands each of us to deny ourselves, take up or cross, and follow him (Mk 8:34). By denying ourselves some of the pleasures of this world we do as Jesus commands; even if it’s in a small and temporary way.
A person may ask how Lenten sacrifice helps a Catholic; and that’s a great question. Many Catholics simply go through the motions of giving up something for Lent because they were raised that way and they’ll feel guilty if they don’t. I’m sorry, but this attitude will only push a person farther from the cross, not closer to it. If you asked me, sacrifice without purpose is meaningless. So how do you take your Lenten sacrifice and put it to good use?
First, offer your sacrifice for something specific. Paul gives us a great example of this in Colossians 1:24. Personally I offer my sacrifices so that I may grow in intimacy with my Lord, for the souls in purgatory, and for the conversion of all people to Jesus’ Church. Think about what is meaningful to you, what are your passions? Offer your sacrifice for that.
Second, DO something! When you feel an urge for a steak on Ash Wednesday say some prayers for your intention. If you gave up TV, use the time for something to further your intention. What good does it do to give up TV and sit on the Internet all evening? If you give up something that costs money, save the money you would have spent and donate it to a cause that furthers your intention. The opportunities are limitless but the point is to DO something. Turn your sacrifice into action; don’t let it be meaningless!
I encourage you to think this Lenten season about your own reasons for abstaining from meat, or any form of abstinence or fasting that you may do. Are you doing these things because you were raised that way? Or because you think you’re supposed to? Or do you make sacrifices to grow in holiness? Do you work to turn your sacrifice into action? Or do you do them because you’ll feel guilty if you don’t?
Lenten sacrifice can be a great way to dive into holiness or it can be 6 weeks of pointless torment. The choice is yours.