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Lenten Sacrifice And The Awareness Of God

by Rev. Nicholas Cirilloame

The season of Lent is upon us once again, and most Catholics will assume their traditional Lenten posture. That means pizza, or better yet, seafood on Friday, and no potato chips, or chewing gum, or alcohol, or whatever, from the day ashes are given until the vigil of Easter dawns, when we will gorge ourselves again as we greet the risen Lord. We have all had this kind of LentĖthe kind in which we just go through the motions, and hope that something happens, or at least it ends soonĖand itís no surprise that it bears so little fruit in our lives, especially since it has such weak roots.

There is, however, a greater mystery to the season of Lent than we might like to admit, probably because if we acknowledge its power and take it seriously, it would demand quite a bit of our attention. Deep within its celebrations and structures, Lent is designed for one purpose alone: to lead us to recognize the presence of God in that which is right before our eyes. Everything that we do during Lent is to make us aware of the Lord, and less focused on ourselves. In its perfection, Lent is a season for reflection upon and delight in the goodness of our God.

In this holy season, we commemorate the forty days of fasting and prayer that Jesus experienced in the desert before he began his public ministry. Those days of temptations and self-denial reveal to us the resolve and the conviction of the Lord who leads us through the desert of our own adversity. Even though tempted to betray his mission and his heavenly Fatherís plan by succumbing to the devilís requests, Christ was always aware of his Fatherís sustaining presence. And it was precisely this awareness that consoled and strengthened him throughout his trials.

As we approach Lent, we must try to see that we are asked to bear incredible burdens and temptations in our lives, yet often without any real awareness of the presence of God. What we try to do in Lent is change our behavior and our vision, so that we can recognize the presence of the Lord. This isnít by any means easy to accomplish. Most of us find it hard enough to accomplish our Lenten promises without attaching this spiritual dimension to their completion. But it is in understanding and giving meaning to our sacrifices that they become for us a source of strength and an exercise of devotion. Here are some examples of what I mean by recognizing the Lord in Lenten observance.

  • If you give something up, as most people do, your sacrifice should help you recognize the blessings that we take for granted most of the time. This is especially true of those things we enjoy on a daily basis. When we willingly deprive ourselves of them, we are reminded that the blessings that we are so accustomed to enjoying do not come from our own hands, but from the Lord whose generosity is the source of all kindness.
  • If you fast during Lent, let your self-denial help you recognize your need for God, and the daily bread that he in his goodness provides. Remember that the hunger you feel should lead you to thankfulness, not bitterness.
  • If you dedicate yourself to a regimen of prayer for Lent or a commitment to daily Mass, try to understand that as you turn to God more frequently and regularly to offer him praise, your vision of the world changes. You begin to recognize how his presence works in your life and how his strength is your consolation in trial. You may also begin to see his presence and his hand in places that you never imagined.
  • If you are involved in acts of charity and works of mercy, try to recognize the face of Christ in those whom you serve, and love him in them as you would love him in person. Charity covers a multitude of sins, and it is still the most effective way to start to understand the Lord who is love.
  • Finally, if you come back to the Church through sacramental reconciliation, here above all, recognize the powerful yet tender mercy that is perhaps Godís richest blessing to his people, and the sweetest balm for the soul. All will be forgiven to those who look for his compassion, all will be forgotten for those we return and recognize his love.

Lent isnít about senseless sacrifices; itís about meaningful ones. Itís not a season for offering endless prayers, itís a time for offering honest ones. Itís a season to come back to the Lord who calls us to return to him, and to avail ourselves of that great bounty which God has spread before us. Whether it be through fasting, prayer, almsgiving, penance, self-denial or whatever Ė give up what you will, but try to see the Lord in the sacrifices you make. However you get from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday is up to you. But above all, make this Lent a time when you learn to recognize Jesus Christ and the thanksgiving that we owe him for everything that we tend to think of as our own.

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