Giving Up For Lent

Last night we were having dinner with friends and the question came up.

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

We went around the table sharing the sacrifices we’d planned and pretty quickly we had a list of the usual suspects; chocolates, sweets, fast food, alcohol, and swearing.

That conversation and this post on a Mormon blog have gotten me thinking about the character of Lent and what is means (or should mean to me.)

The danger of Lent is that it too easily becomes a mirror.  We undertake the disciplines of Lent because they are good for us.  We eat less or cut out sweets or alcohol because they are distracting us from God, but also because they are bad for us.  Or we engage in various prayers and sacrifices on the premise that God see us in a more favorable light or might be more inclined to grant our requests.

Both of these approaches are comfortably uncomfortable because they keep the focus on us.  Even if our intention is purely to grow closer to God, we risk navel-gazing so long as we think our will power makes any real difference to the sacrifice.

As I get older, I’ve begun to understand that Lent isn’t about giving something up.  It’s about giving up.

Monestir_de_Montserrat_vista_Roca_de_St._JaumeOne of my favorite saints is Ignatius of Loyola.  As a young man, he dreamed of being a valiant knight.  He had read romantic stories and his head was stuffed with images of himself, sword in hand, vanquishing foes.  To me, it seems that he was a 16th century fan-boy.

His life took a dark turn on May 20, 1521 when he was part of a Spanish force fighting the French at Navarre.  A cannonball wounded his legs — one of the quite badly.  He was shipped back to his parent’s castle to recover.  While convalescing, he had two books to keep him entertained — a book on the life of Christ and a book about the lives of the saints.  As he read and re-read them he gradually shifted his focus from glory for himself to bringing glory to God.

After he healed, set out on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Before going very gar, he stopped at the Abbey of Santa Maria de Monsterrat.  There, in the chapel, he held a solitary night-long vigil at the altar.  This was common for those about to be knighted, but Ignatius had a different idea in mind.

When dawn came, he took of his sword and laid it on the altar.  He literally disarmed himself, surrendering to God.  He was giving up.

Ignatius went on to become one of the great figures in salvation history. He eventually founded the Society of Jesus which we know today as the Jesuits.

So, maybe instead of giving something up for Lent, we should follow Ignatius’ example and just give up.

— Kevin

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Reflection: Self-Sacrifice

(Editor’s Note: As part of the discernment and training process, the novices and students write and lead prayer services.  Evan will share his from time to time as he writes them.)

Novice Prayer Service Thursday October 15th, 2013
On Sacrifice

You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone.
-Jesus to St. Faustina, Diary of St. Faustina, 1767

Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.
-St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Tonight I thought we could use this prayer service to reflect on the sacrificing nature of a vocation. We willing give ourselves in love to the service of others, especially as future priests. There is also an aspect of sacrificing the “normal” life. We won’t have the small suburb home with a white picket fence, a wife, two kids, and a dog. Instead, we are called to live for the world, not simply in it. I thought one of the best ways to explore sacrifice would actually be to look at a few scenes from movies that have sacrifice as a central theme in a prayerful manner. I’ll give a little set-up explaining each scene.

Movie One: Road to Perdition, scene at 1:33:15

After a fellow gangster kills his wife and kids, Tom Hanks has to take his son across the country in order to keep him alive. In this scene, Tom confronts his mob boss about the gangster who is also stealing money from the boss. In the end, Tom does get his son across the country, but dies in the process of protecting his son.

Movie Two: The Iron Giant, scene at 1:14:00

 Set in Maine during the 1950’s, a giant robot crashes to Earth and befriends a 10 year old child. The  robot has amnesia and cannot remember his mission. He learns about Superman and being a hero from  the child. When the local town finds out about the robot when he save a kid from falling to his death,  they go into full panic thinking he is a monster sent to destroy them. The military is called in and the  robot goes into a rage and remembers his mission (which is to destroy the Earth). This leads to the  military launching a nuclear missile at the town.

Movie Three: Stranger than Fiction, scenes at 1:31:09 and 1:35:45

 Will Ferrell starts hearing his own life being narrated as though he was a character in a book. One  morning he hears the voice say that things were set in motion for him to die. He eventually tracks  down the author and reads the finished manuscript detailing how he will die.

So in all of these films there is a sense of love for others, even total strangers, where one is
willing to sacrifice themselves completely. A vocation, especially one to God, can be seen in a very  similar way. We don’t have to find a way to get ourselves killed, but we can find small things to do for others, not for ourselves. We can take an example after Christ and His most Holy sacrifice. In our  sacrifices we can find God, His love for us, and our own conversion to holiness (to being superman).

Share any thoughts or feelings.

 Closing Prayer:

Jesus, tender and loving Lamb of God, Utmost Sacrifice of all sacrifices, Your glory is  reverberated in  the highest. Being preoccupied with my well-being, You chose to self-sacrifice Yourself, Setting aside all Your personal glories. I thank You Lord Jesus for Your act of love! Your action has drawn me closer to You. Teach me to model in smaller things, To sacrifice in order to help others, Guiding my soul to endure abstinence. Lamb of God, I thank you endlessly!

Amen.  (Unknown origin)

— Novice