Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 17, 2003
Must we abstain during Lent?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
I know that the Church has eased many Lenten rules: fasting, abstinence, etc. However, when Lent comes, I feel the need to give up something to make a better Lent. Is that still OK?
Lent is a privileged time for Christians. It gives us a special opportunity to open the door of our lives to Christ who keeps knocking gently waiting for an answer. We are fortunate that we no longer are obliged to a rigid set of practices. We can now exercise our creativity and develop ways to observe Lent which suit our particular circumstances. And there are so many stimulating means of putting life in our sometimes-tired practices. I can only give a few suggestions. Use your creativity.
Do we give up?
Should we continue giving up stuff for Lent? For some, a set routine of giving up something is the best way, while for others, doing something extra is better. But giving up must not stem from a disdain for the world for everything that God created is good. Scripture tells us "God so loved the world."
Fasting is a traditional way of giving up something. Hunger is the most basic human need and fasting is a reminder that humans are frail creatures. In past centuries, fasting brought everyone to the same level as all, from king to peasant, fasted. One who has been truly hungry begins to understand that life is a gift, leading to human compassion and putting into practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
When we have full stomachs all the time and are surrounded by so many material things, it is harder to feel the need for God and the needs of others. Maybe that's why Jesus speaks of the difficulty for the rich to enter heaven. The aim of these 40 days is to become more sensitized to God's love and the needs of others and respond accordingly: "Whatever you did to the least of these, you did unto me."
Perhaps in today's consumer society, we need more than ever to fast or to "give up" something. It is a question of addiction and freedom.
Do we own the things we have or do they own us?
This is a time to explore if the good things we have oppress us or others, to see if "bondage" has overtaken us, to look to what extent we expect finite realities to be God for us, giving us a security and fulfillment that they cannot give.
How can we tell? Do possessions pre-occupy our minds? Do they take all our time and interest? Have we become slaves to pleasure, food, money, fame, self? Do we look for any of these things to satisfy us fully?
Lent is a time to reorder our priorities. If we allow material things to play a proper role in our lives, they become what they were meant to be, a help for us to live out our responsibilities as human beings on this earth. We can enjoy them, remembering they come to us from God's goodness.
Lent can be a time to take positive action to better our world. When someone is in need, I can find creative ways to reach out. Sometimes, an encouraging word or a smile can make the day for someone who may be discouraged or depressed, or for anyone, for that matter.
When I see or hear something objectionable in the media, I can pick up the phone and voice my objections or better yet, write a letter to the person in charge. I can show respect for God's creation by helping to keep the environment clean and healthy.
One person was moved to clean out a drawer or a shelf of a cupboard every day of Lent and dispose of the superfluous, giving clothes to the poor, re-cycling Christmas gifts, writing notes to almost forgotten friends, and in the process, re-living many happy memories.
But our fasting and almsgiving must be wrapped in prayer. We Catholics need to re-discover our rich heritage of prayer. Sometimes, we think we need to go to other religions such as Buddhism to learn how to meditate but all we need to do is study how our Christian mystics prayed. Many ideas about how to do this can be found in books and talks on prayer.
We need to take an honest look at our prayer life. We need to ask ourselves how fervently we celebrate the Eucharist or make a holy hour; how we pray the psalms in the Divine Office, prayers prayed by Jesus himself; how attentively we pray the rosary or other vocal prayers; how meaningfully we make our confessions.
But especially, as Pope John Paul has said so beautifully, "We need to make time each day to tell God of our love but especially to let ourselves be loved by God." This is prayer at its best.
We deny ourselves in our humanity so we can encounter divinity. Jesus denied himself in his divinity, "He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave" to become human and encounter our humanity. Reflect on the hymn in Philippians 2:6-8. They are powerful words which could occupy our minds and hearts during the whole of Lent.
We are grafted onto the vine which is Jesus and, if we allow it, the life from the vine will flow through us and nourish us leading us to become more aware of the presence of God all around us and in us.
Then truly, we will experience a glorious resurrection with Christ at Easter.