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Growing in virtue this Lenten Season

February 21, 2007

“What are you giving up for Lent?” we are often asked during this time of year. This question usually refers to which specific food or drink we are going to stop eating or drinking during this season. Some go further and want to give up TV shows or the Internet. Although these practices of disciplining the will may sound trivial (because many people go back to their same old practices after Lent), if they are coupled with a true sense of solidarity and strong spiritual practices, they can lead us into growing in virtue during this season. It is through small acts that we can grow in humility; nevertheless, they cannot be isolated from our final goal—to reach unity with Christ.

Fasting, Abstinence, and Solidarity

Fasting is often times seen as pointless and unnecessary in an individual-centered society like the one in which we live in today. On the other hand, there is another extreme in fasting. There is a temptation to become spiritual athletes for Christ and practice intense fasting losing focus of our ultimate end: to grow closer to Christ. But it is in solidarity that our fasting can be fruitful in our spiritual life: when we realize that we are not alone, that we are united with members of the Mystical Body of Christ in the name of His love.

In other words, if you decide to stop drinking sodas or eating chocolate during this season, because they are not good for you or they make you fat, your attempts may not be all that fruitful spiritually (perhaps physically!), because they do not extend vertically or horizontally, religiously speaking. A different approach may be to actually practice fasting and abstinence as outlined by the Church and if you desire you can abstain also from certain foods of your choice, but all of this has to be done in a context of solidarity with others and in “offering it up” to Christ. Solidarity means that you recognize others’ needs and that they are always in front of you. For instance, when you fast it is a way of recognizing the hunger that many suffer around the world and the injustices that make this happen. Or when you don’t drink that soda that you usually love is a way of knowing we can leave our desires aside and understand that many people around us do not have the luxury to fulfill their desires even if they are really small and harmless as a can of soda can be.

Spiritual Practices

Lent can become almost like that time of New Year’s when we start making resolutions and we later break them after the season ends. Although it does not have to necessarily be that way. Lent can be a time for training and disciplining our will to start certain spiritual practices that if successful can extend well beyond the Lenten season and even for life. Personally, it was during one Lent two years ago when I decided to attend daily Mass and start praying the Liturgy of the Hours. I still practice both two years later, although with daily Mass schedules nowadays, it becomes difficult to attend Mass every day working a full-time job and going back to school at the same time. Nevertheless, perhaps you may want to try to go to daily Mass and visit the Blessed Sacrament or start praying the Liturgy of the Hours or read a chapter of Scripture every day or start a new devotion—or be more perseverant with the ones you already practice.

So let us go forth and make this Lenten season count. Let us allow the grace of the Lord transform us so we can cultivate solidarity in humility in our hearts as we attempt to grow closer to Christ during these 40 days and receive Him joyfully on Easter Sunday.

See:
The Desert Fathers
Growing in holiness with the Saints — Aridity
Prayer for Universal Solidarity
Dedicating every day to God

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