Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday 2011

Lent is a time of sacrifice. We fast and discipline our bodies, as we do also our souls, in preparation for Easter. Although the Lenten discipline has ancient roots, it seems that some Christian denominations have lost this tradition, shedding it as they have so much of the heritage that Catholics still cherish. Some are now regaining the mystery of redemptive suffering, and today we see many Protestants wearing the ashes and “giving up” something for Lent.

Yet I still meet the occasional Christian who questions why we should sacrifice anything at all when Jesus has already sacrificed everything on our behalf. Rather than give a full explanation behind this practice, I just want to make one brief observation…

Some Christians I know have claimed that God just wants us to be “happy.” He has surrounded us with good things and we should enjoy them. Why should we give up (for Lent or at any time) the things that God has given to us?

While there are many responses that could be made to this challenge, I will highlight just one: God certainly wants us to be “happy” – He wants our lives to be filled with joy. But do we sometimes confuse true “joy” (the kind of joy that comes from embracing Truth and Goodness) with a lesser joy that is nothing more than satisfying our carnal pleasure? Do we sometimes indulge ourselves in a physical and emotional high from the material world around us, when we could instead have the joy that is found in God? In other words, are we placing the “things” God has given us above God Himself?

As I said, there are many ways to explain why Lenten sacrifice is a spiritually enriching practice, but among these is the idea that separating ourselves from earthly pleasures allows us to focus more intently on God (where our joy will be complete). Giving up meat on Fridays, fasting, and choosing extra sacrifices to make throughout Lent, does not snub God by rejecting the gifts that He has given us, rather it puts God first, above the created things that we enjoy every other time of the year.

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