As we approach Ash Wednesday, that is a very popular Catholic question. Often the question is not given the weight it truly deserves. Many still treat Lent like they did as a child. Then will come answers like “I’m giving up chocolate” or “ice cream.” How much of a sacrifice is it to give up these things, and what does it mean at all in the larger scheme of your life?
I usually have a hard time answering that question. I could never exactly see what the point was of giving something up for a few weeks, only to return to it with a passion later on.
I think I always saw, even when I didn’t truly understand, that the Lenten season is meant to foster a true change within us. Lent calls us to real sacrifices that lead us along the road to our salvation. Lent reminds us that a vital part of our road to salvation leads us along the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrow.
Lent is a penitential season. It is a time for us to truly reflect on our sins and to seek repentance and renewal through the sufferings of Christ. It is a time that exposes our desires and gives us an opportunity to reflect on the difference between needs and wants. Wants and desires can lead us into sin, and Lent is an opportunity to be freed from them by giving them up. That is an emptying of ourselves and opening ourselves to the will of the Father.
It is not solely the “giving up” that is important, but also the filling of the void that is created.
It has become popular recently to give up social media for Lent. Our online social lives can take up so much of our time and focus. It can be difficult to forgo it for hours for some, never mind for forty days.
But the big question becomes, what are you replacing that activity with in your life? If you give up social media, but watch more TV, then the “sacrifice” has become meaningless. If you are using that time to read more Scripture, develop a prayer discipline, do more charitable works, more almsgiving, more study, more Adoration, then it will be a fruitful Lenten season.
They say it takes 30 days to change a habit, that is, to either remove an old habit or develop a new one. The forty days of Lent is the perfect opportunity to be transformed.
For Lent I am giving up more of me and adding more of Jesus.
A Season of Compassion
Lent is a time for us to walk with the Lord more closely. It is a time for us to seriously consider our sins, the very sins which caused Jesus to be crucified and die for us. In walking with him, we share in his Passion.
The word compassion literally means “to suffer with.” We carry our crosses with the Lord, walking in his footsteps. In Lent it is a road of repentance for us. We feel the weight of our sins as we walk with Christ along the Via Dolorosa. As we walk away from our sins, we walk towards redemption. As we confess our sins and repent, we turn them over to Christ who carries them for us.
As we walk the Way of Sorrow with Jesus, our crosses become lighter and his becomes heavier.
We cannot walk that road unless we fully unite with him, otherwise we become like the observers who merely watched him carry the cross. Lent calls us to suffer with him.
So we struggle towards Calvary with Christ. It is a road that leads to a dying, but for us it is a dying to sin. During Lent, through compassion, we claim the reward of that suffering. We claim the cleansing of his blood. We claim our salvation which comes from the cross.
It is ours to claim.
The Way of Sorrow is a lonely journey. It is the narrow way, the hard road. It is hard to see the peace or the joy at the end of the road. It is a walk of sacrifice and suffering, but we never walk it alone. It is a walk with Christ.
We walk following Christ’s footsteps, steps taken out of love and mercy. We suffer with him, and in our compassion our hearts grow and become enflamed and burn for him. We make a sacrifice of ourselves for him.
As he was stripped of all dignity, pride, comfort, honor, even his very garments, so we strip away our worldliness and seek humility in Lent. We deny ourselves, we fast, we give alms, we abstain from meat, we deepen our prayer life.
Lent is a season of stark choices. It is not an easy journey to start out upon for it seems to offer no comfort and only pain and suffering. But as we journey upon that road we find that when we fully unite to Christ Jesus, the yoke becomes easy and the burden light. (Matthew 11:30)
In the end, Jesus takes everything upon himself, and we can then see the true end of the road.
The road that seemed to offer only sorrow in truth leads us to the ultimate and unending joy. The road of suffering leads to Easter Sunday morning, the Resurrection and eternal life.
“The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him; if we endure, we shall also reign with him.” (2 Timothy 2:11-12)
I am giving up sin. It is the only thing worth giving up. Why give up anything else? It is what he is asking of us when we stand to receive our ashes and hear the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” These were the words of Jesus when he began his ministry and declared that the kingdom of God is at hand. (Mark 1:15)
What are you giving up for Lent?
I am giving up more of me and filling that void with more of Christ Jesus.
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)
Let us walk that hard road with him and be filled with compassion. Then we can have compassion for our brothers and sisters on their difficult roads and walk with them also.
The Way of Sorrow is the way of love.
Kevin Theriault is a Lay Dominican writer, freelance journalist and photographer.