One hallmark of Lent is the spiritual practice of giving up something. We hear of people giving up sugar, chocolate, alcohol, or
variousother vices during the season. Some folks give up drinking their favorite Starbuck’s drink and instead give the money to a food bank. Others decide to read the Bible once a day. What you choose to give up, or take on, is up to you.
Instead of talking about what to give up, however, I want to talk about the “why” of giving something up or taking something on for 40 days.
The spiritual practice of giving up something is that you fill the empty space with Christ. For instance, if you give up a Starbuck’s drink every morning, you may want to fill that space with a prayer for the hungry of the world. After 40 days of this practice, you will probably find yourself in a deeper spiritual life. People participate in this spiritual practice because it
takes away something that they may take for granted and fills it with something meaningful – like the presence of the Holy in their life.
Last year, I told you about how in my third year of seminary I gave up combing my hair. Yes, I really did give up combing/brushing my hair for 40 days. Every morning when my routine would be to run a brush through my hair, I would instead pray that God focus my mind on the needs of the world and not the vanities of every day life. I was different after 40 days. My hair was messy but my spiritual life was in order.
In my second year of seminary, I gave up receiving communion for Lent. Big deal, you might say. It’s just six Sundays,right?
In seminary, we had holy communion Monday through Friday. And, I was serving at a parish on Sundays which would include two or three services. So, I had the opportunity to receive communion eight times a week. I filled the vacuum with prayers for those who had turned their backs on Christ, and for those to whom the Church had refused the most precious sacrament.
After 40 days, I was more than ready to receive communionagain. The day I finally received was at an Easter Vigil where a formerly homeless man who used to sleep behind the church was baptized. I will always remember that night. It was his first taste of communion and the acceptance of God’s love. For me, it was the first joyous receiving of communion in what seemed like a very long time.
Besides the wonder and awe and memories of that night, a deep change occurred inside of me. I have a passion for those whom the Church has said are not worthy to receive. For the rest of my Eucharistic ministry, I will seek to make Holy
Communion available to all of God’s baptized children. And for those not yet baptized, I plan to make a blessing at the altar rail acceptable and available to all who desire it.
Why give something up or take something on for Lent? This practice will create a space in your life into which you can then invite Christ in order to discover or rediscover a sense of the Holy. If you follow either practice for 40 days, you will be different by Easter.
May God richly bless you in this Lenten season,
- Fr. Dave