Lent is always difficult, and not always for the right reasons.
There’s always the problem with what to ‘give up for
Lent.’ My first Lent as a Catholic, over twenty years
ago, I gave up meat, and I haven’t eaten it since. I’m
pleased with my vegetarian lifestyle choice, but since I never eat
meat, I can’t give it up for Lent again, and then I even have
to come up with something else to do on the abstinence days, since
not eating meat is no additional sacrifice for me.
In the first reading today the people are upset because God does
not seem to be taking appropriate notice of their sacrifices.
Sort of like me on the abstinence days: “Hey, look at
me, I’m not eating a burger” -- well, duh, I don’t
eat burgers on the other days either. They are making a show
of sacrifice, without any true sacrifice. God says that making
a show of a fast, when their hearts are not in it is not a true
sacrifice. They go about their selfish lives and sin against
others while they are making a show of a sacrifice and then expect
God to answer their prayers. This is not the way it works.
Not then, and not for Lenten sacrifices. God tells them that
if they want true notice from God, they need to change their hearts.
Instead of making a show of a fast, they need to start treating
each other decently. Instead of denying themselves food as
a show, but continuing to advance themselves by debasing others,
they should help others and fight injustice. Their fasting
is not solidarity or a true sacrifice but an attempt at attention.
This year for Lent I will still be giving up meat, as I have every
day for the past twenty plus years. And for selfish reasons
I won’t give up chocolate: (my birthday is during Lent and
I want the chocolate cake.) And even if I gave up chocolate,
there would be a definite suffering and a symbolic solidarity, but
that would only affect me. I decided I wanted to find something
that would fit the ideas from the reading: something that
would be a hardship for me, but that would also be a help to someone
else. I’m a horrible packrat and the stuff in my house
has become unmanageable. For Lent this year I’m going
to clean out my closet and donate the stuff to charity. Cleaning
is a hardship for me. Getting rid of anything is a genuine
sacrifice. But getting rid of it in the right way can help
someone else. I have way too much stuff and I need to simplify.
Much of my excess stuff is good stuff and I know there are people
who could use it and really need it. Instead of suffering
symbolically over a piece of chocolate cake, I’m going to
eliminate some of my excess and donate to those in need. I’m
going to do my part in sharing my bread with the hungry and clothing
the naked. Instead of giving up, I’m going to do some