FR. DAVE PIVONKA
Last week, at the end of a long day, I was checking into a hotel that offers cookies to all their guests. I thanked the lady at the reception desk but declined her offer. The gentleman next to me stated, “Really, why wouldn’t you want cookies?” I stated that it was Friday, and before I could say another word he stated emphatically, “It’s not LENT.”
I don’t know if the man was Catholic or not, but I found it interesting that he automatically connected my abstaining from cookies to Lent. And yet, he is correct that Lent is a heightened time of self-denial and an important part of the next 40 days; in fact, learning self-denial is an extremely important part of the Christian life.
There is something essential about self-denial, Lent and the spiritual life. When Jesus invites his disciples to follow him, the first thing he tells them to do is to deny themselves. Self-denial is constitutive to being a follower of Jesus, and yet it is diametrically opposed to what the world is selling. We live in an age where bigger is better and more is best. When you go to Sheetz you can get a Coke that is something like 300 ounces. I was at the movies recently and the largest bucket of popcorn came with a set of training wheels. It’s difficult to say no in a world of extreme excess.
And yet, this is exactly what we are asked to do in this season of Lent. We are invited to enter into a time of fasting, not so that we can lose a few pounds or to prove how hardcore we are. Rather, our fasting should turn our heart to Jesus. Each time we say no to something it is an invitation to say yes to Jesus, to say yes to grace, to say yes to conversion. By saying no to something, it helps us to become more aware of a want or a desire and then to offer that to the Lord. “Lord, I am willing to go without, so that I might be filled by you.”
Fasting also helps us overcome sin. There is a direct connection between our ability to fast and abstain and our ability to say no to sin. So often our desires or impulses control our actions, and we need to grow in our ability to say no and to have greater self-control. If we can grow in our ability to say no to the desires of the flesh, we can say no to sins of the flesh.
So, what will it be? My guess is almost everyone has already made up their minds about what they are going to fast from, but I just want to make sure. We most often think of food, and this is important. St. Anthony of the Desert said that if we want to grow in the spiritual life we need to learn to control our stomach.
But it doesn’t only have to be food. What about time on electronic devices? What if you didn’t take your phone to class with you, rather left it in your room? Or when you go to the caf for dinner, cut the cord and leave your phone behind. Sure, you could just make up your mind to keep it in your pocket and not look at it, and that’s great, but there is something different in just leaving it behind. Give it a shot.
Finally, let’s be sure to keep each other in prayer this Lent. Let’s pray that God will bless our university community and that our hearts would be more opened to Jesus and his grace. Let’s pray that as we journey through the desert that is Lent, we will discover God in the quiet and simplicity of the season.
Be a saint.