We have all been there – mid-morning on Ash Wednesday, awkwardly trying to hide the fact that our stomach is grumbling, wondering what actually constitutes as a “small meal”, and attempting to find it within ourselves to pray when all we can think about is those pangs of hunger. Or the classic Friday in Lent – where every meatless option seems unappetizing, and it is impossible to stop thinking about how badly we want chicken nuggets. Or that Lent when you decided to give up all sweets and you find yourself agonizing over whether or not a frosted donut really counts as a sweet . . . Why is this? Why is it that on days (or seasons for that matter) where we are called to fast or abstain from certain foods or other comforts, we feel conflicted about what the Church is calling us to do? There are any number of contributing factors (including the fact that chicken nuggets and donuts are delicious), but the heart of the matter is this: when we make sacrifices both big and small, we are often focused on what we are doing and forget the sacrifices of Lent are really about what is being done to us.
In her wisdom, the Church gives us Lent to take a step back - to simplify and to ultimately journey towards Christ in His suffering, death, and resurrection. During this season we are more aware of what we are giving up – of the sacrifices that we are making, and those things that we are temporarily missing out on enjoying. It can be all too easy to fall into the trap of grudgingly accepting what we have decided to sacrifice, instead of using it as an opportunity to better ourselves on the journey to Easter. Every time we make the mistake of thinking our own sacrifices about us, we are missing the point of this Lenten journey.
The reality of the world that we live in is that sacrifice is underrated – our friends and people around us may not understand why we would willingly give up earthly comforts for a Church season. But we know differently. Every small sacrifice we make is about becoming more aware of the sacrifice that Christ made for us 2000 years ago. Instead of sighing in frustration about what we cannot have every time our stomach growls, we should utter a prayer of gratitude for the chance to conform our lives more to the life of Christ.
We have the privilege to journey through these 40 days towards the cross of Good Friday. Although we all have to take up our own small crosses in the form of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the most important thing we will do is walk confidently towards the cross of Christ. The beauty of the cross is that it is bigger than any one thing that we can do, and the cross has the power to continually renew us in our mission as baptized Christians. So although we may be temporarily missing our favorite treat or meat on Fridays, we can take hope that our sacrifices are not about how much we can do, they are about making ourselves more ready to celebrate the Easter Sunday that comes after the Good Friday.
Lauren Scharmer is a senior at the Catholic University of America studying Social Work & Theology and is active in both retreat and youth ministry in both the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. and Diocese of Arlington.