Ask the Holy Spirit to guide our Lenten sacrifices

Lent is the 40-day season before Easter. There are 40 days of Lent because 40 is the traditional number for preparation, devotion and discipline. Moses was on the mountain 40 days. The Israelites were in the desert 40 years. Elijah traveled 40 days to the cave of his vision. Nineveh was given 40 days to repent.
Most importantly, our Lord fasted and prayed in the desert 40 days before beginning his ministry. It is fitting for us Christians to imitate the Lord with this 40-day period devoted to prayer, fasting and charity so as to grow in faith, hope and love.
From a young age most of us are accustomed to giving something up for Lent. Very often this is some kind of food we really don’t need anyway. Others make the time to attend Mass during the week or a daily rosary or the Stations of the Cross. Others save their pocket change to give to the hungry or do some kind of volunteer charitable work. All these are laudable customs.
As we go through the discipline of making even small sacrifices such as these, we learn to purify our hearts and minds of earthly desires in favor of heavenly desires. By proving ourselves faithful and disciplined in small matters, we will be ready to choose God’s ways in larger matters when the opportunity arises.
As we gaze on the cross of our Lord, we must know sacrifice is an important element of the Christian life. If we truly love someone, whether that be God or another person, we will also be willing to sacrifice for their good or honor. Love and sacrifice always go hand in hand. Our Lord certainly both taught this and showed this through the cross.
Because he paid the price for our sins already doesn’t mean we passively sit back to enjoy all the benefits of the cross without any action on our part. We must actively join ourselves to his sacrifice to receive the benefits. “Take up your cross,” the Savior says. In other words, we must participate in the sacrifice of Christ.
A worthy reception of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, is paramount to joining ourselves to his sacrifice, but we can take up our crosses any time we choose to love God or neighbor through a pouring out of self or through a penance. St. Paul says, we are “joint heirs with Christ if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rm 8:17). Jesus said, “This kind can only come out through prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:21). In this instance he was referring specifically to driving out a demon, but why not extend the practice of prayer and fasting to rid us of bad habits or sinful earthly attachments?
One pitfall of the discipline of Lent we should avoid is making these sacrifices for their own sake. There will be little value in me giving up sweets for Lent if I do not also make the connection through prayer that I make this small sacrifice or mortification to honor God more than I honor myself. That connection is key to fruitful Lenten discipline.
So let us ask the Holy Spirit to guide our Lenten devotions and sacrifices. Ask the Lord what would please him most: reading sacred Scripture, increasing daily prayer, confession more regularly, attending Stations of the Cross, attending daily Mass, performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, living more simply, showing gratitude to someone, or reading a spiritual book.
Don’t be afraid to enter into the desert with Christ. There will be much rejoicing at Easter and ultimately in heaven if we can enter into sacrificial union with the Lord through our Lenten observance and by making the lessons learned in a good Lent last a lifetime.
Father John Broheimer is the pastor of St. Peter Parish, Omaha.
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