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Our readers asked:

Why do we give up something for Lent?

Neela Kale Answers:

You’re out with your friends on a Friday night and suddenly you notice that one of them has switched from his favorite microbrew to… lemonade? Is it time for Lent already? Giving up something for Lent sometimes evokes head-scratching in non-Catholics, but what might seem like just another Catholic eccentricity can actually be a practice with deep spiritual significance.

Lent, the period of 40 days that precedes the celebration of Easter, has its origin in the early days of the Church. Converts seeking to become Christian, who at that time were mostly adults, spent several years in study and preparation. Under the threat of Roman persecution, becoming a Christian was serious business, so their process of preparation was intensive! Then they went through a final period of “purification and enlightenment” for the 40 days before their baptism at Easter. The rest of the Church began to observe the season of Lent in solidarity with these newest Christians. It became an opportunity for all Christians to recall and renew the commitment of their baptism.

Today we know Lent as a season of conversion: we acknowledge the ways we have turned away from God in our lives and we focus on turning our hearts and minds back toward God. Hence the three pillars of Lent are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These observances help us turn away from whatever has distracted or derailed us and to turn back to God. Giving up something for Lent is ultimately a form of fasting. We can deprive ourselves of some small pleasure or indulgence and offer that sacrifice up to God. Or we might “give up” a bad habit such as smoking as a way of positively turning our life back towards what God wants for us.

So maybe your mom was on to something when she had you give up Oreos or your favorite TV show as a child. An experience of want, however temporary, can help us to appreciate the true abundance in our lives. And a small positive change can have a big impact that lasts beyond the 40 days of Lent.

Take the time now to think about what you might give up this year. Is it something you enjoy that you want to sacrifice for a while, like your daily latte? Or is it a bad habit you want to conquer, like running in late to meetings with co-workers? Or perhaps you want to turn your cell phone off for a few hours each day and not let it distract you from the loved ones you are with in real time? Find something that works for you, and whatever it is, may it help you to turn towards God in this holy season of Lent.

 
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The Author : Neela Kale
Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • JuliePurple

    The time of sacrificing things for lent came appropriately enough: in late Winter/early Spring, crops aren’t ready to harvest yet and the store of food set aside for Winter was growing pretty slim. At least, that’s true in the Northern hemisphere. You wouldn’t want to have lent at harvest time! NOBODY would want to go for it then! Well, hardly anybody.
    Forget about all the religious overtones, though. It’s just that sometimes it’s helpful to exercise more discipline than usual, and can help you to not take things for granted. We have so many gifts in this life, and sometimes we DO take things for granted. It’s good to remember to be grateful.

  • sonia b

    Sonia
    begum
    ayah
    hussain
    mohammed
    ubayd

    • gooder1

      That was one owl screeching hello

  • Jason Stone

    God is the ONLY one who can forgive sins….Preists have been given no such authority….try and bend the Word as you choose but that doesn’t make it fact.

    • A. Lee

      And God gave that authority to man, as stated in Scripture, but you seem to conveniently ignore that.

  • Tyasia

    Very Good Im Giving Up Sweet Tea Im Am Willing To Drink God’s Knowledge I Am Very Excited About Lent! Its A Good Way To Turn Your Attention To God:)

  • Tina

    The best way to give up is to devote your time to God’s mission and give up what is the biggest distraction from it. I love writing and know it’s my mission but sometimes I get distracted and play Sims 3, so I’m giving my favorite game up for Lent so that I can focus on my mission.

  • aimer

    Denying ourselves something we enjoy is a simple and clear way to remember all that Christ sacrificed for us, ALL of us, even those who don’t even believe. It is an act of love and thankfulness. I feel honored to be able to do this during Lent each year.

    • StEwPiD_MoNkEy

      There was no sacrifice.

  • boo

    Anyway god does not exist lol.

    • A. Lee

      I like trolls

      • CallMe Keens

        with extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. he was not trolling, but proclaiming the truth because all deity believers do not want to hear the truth. they would rather live a lie.

  • skines44@yahoo.com

    True Christianity is not about giving something up…it is about the abundant life in Christ, with a fullness of joy. God said “to obey is better than to sacrifice” and that obedience is to the Gospel: Jesus died for your sins, was buried and was resurrected to life eternal….so we are forgiven of our sins and are no longer under the law. This “tradition” is not recognizing the full concept of grace, but is hanging on to the notion that we have to give something to God in order to earn His favor….clearly not true per New Testament teachings.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ejderkach Eve Derkach

      I’m new to Lenten sacrifice, having been raised Baptist, but facing my own baptism at Easter, I have a slightly different perspective than what I was taught as a child. It isn’t that giving up something for Lent curries favor with Christ. The very notion demeans the power of His grave. We saved through grace alone. To obey is better than sacrificing, but we don’t always obey. Lent is a time when we are encouraged to see where we have not obeyed. It doesn’t save us- grace does that when we have repented. It is, however, a tool we can use to get back to righteous living. And please don’t put tradition in quotation marks. That implies that it isn’t a tradition and it very much is. It may not be one that you practice or agree with, but it exists and draws many Christians into closer communion with God. If anything, think of it in terms of 1 Cor 8. All things are lawful for us, but if it becomes a stumbling block for our brethren, let us abstain. Or in this case, allow that some Christian need Lent. Not for God, but for themselves. I know I need it.

      • skines44@yahoo.com

        You are new to Lenten sacrifice because it is not taught in Scripture. The problem with this is that many who observe Lent behave one way all thru the year, but behave differently for 40 days. Does it do them good? I imagine for some it may help in some way. But again, the emphasis in Christ is not on what we give for Christ, but what He gave for us! We bring NOTHING to the table. And after Lent is over, your righteousness is still as “filthy rags” in God’s sight, and your behavior, while it might improve temporarily is still not going to measure up to God’s standard, which is perfection. Only in Christ do we find perfection, as His righteousness is imputed to us, by GRACE ALONE. My prayer is that the focus would be on Jesus, and not our own efforts to gain anything, whether it be favor or somehow just feeling better about ourselves. That is NOT the focus in Christianity–loving God in a personal relationship is the focus.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cole.caldwell.336 Cole Caldwell

      Lent is not set in place to earn anything from god. It is set in place to honor god for what he did for us. No where in the bible does it require lent but if god was so awesome as to die for all our sins then giving something up for 40 days is extremely minuscule in comparison.

      • skines44@yahoo.com

        “it is set in place”….by who? Man. Not in Scripture. And you are right, giving up food of some kind for 40 days is miniscule….to me it is almost an insult to God. He wants YOU, your heart, your love, your daily worship, all the time. My concern is that for many, lent is the ONLY time they focus on God, and many believe, along with other rituals, that if they observe Lent, it helps to save them. If the motive is pure, then God bless you and all who are observing it.

      • A. Lee

        “My concern is that for many, lent is the ONLY time they focus on God…”

        If it is your generalization that there are Christians – perhaps Catholics – who focus their faith entirely on the time of Lent, then there is no question you are stereotyping and assuming far too much about what you do not see. Spend time a couple weeks with a group of devout Catholics or religious nuns or friars, then come back and try and make that judgment.

      • Jason Stone

        Most Christians (followers of Christ) don’t practice lent, mainly because it is a man made tradition and doesn’t appear in the bible.

      • A. Lee

        Its a man made tradition meant to toughen one spiritually, and it has been in practice since the early Christian church. It was a ritual that was undertaken before Baptism. It was probably that very practice that prepared them for martyrdom and persecution, because it toughened their souls and taught them to rely on nothing but the love of God. The natural order of things is that anything worth anything must be prepared for. Even professional athletes spend months in pre-season and preparation every single year. If we must learn to love God, we must take time to deprive and push ourselves to our limits so that we remind ourselves that God is above all things, even that which provides survival to our physical bodies like food.

        And besides, there’s plenty of scriptural support for it. Jesus went to fast for 40 days and 40 nights. If we are to be like Jesus, why shouldn’t we do the same? If the Early Christians did it and they were the very ones that disseminated our religion, and if Jesus Christ himself did it, you’re kidding yourself if you think its a tradition that was wholly made by man.

      • Jason Stone

        Jesus did it for an actual reason, to become closer with the Father. These days, it is all “I’m giving up beer for lent”, “I’m giving up swearing for lent” There is absolutely no benefit from this. It is also supposed to be a sacred time directly between man and God. It has turned into nothing more than a 40 day senseless ritual, which consists of people posting what they’re giving up on facebook. If you truly spend those 40 days and nights in prayer and fasting, seeking the Father and trying to move closer to Him, then bless you.

        John 3:16
        Galatians 2:16

        John 14:6

        Revelation 3:20

        It is only by God’s grace that we have the opportunity to go to Heaven when we die. Jesus did 99% of the work when He died for us on the cross. The 1% is where we accept him as our Lord and Savior, acknowledging that He and He alone died for our sins. From there we put our faith in Him and try to grow closer to him. John 14:6 says it perfectly in regards to lent. You cannot be saved by your works, no matter how much it has been trained and ingrained in your head, you cannot. It is by HIS grace that we are saved.

      • A. Lee

        This is the heart of the Protestant vs. Catholic debate. But think about it. As far as us Catholics are concerned, your interpretation would be considered heretical were it taught in my church. Think about it – if Jesus really did 99% of the work, we should all be in Heaven, our salvation should be supremely easy. Yet, if you look at the world today, not everyone is a Christian and many will never know Christ, Ukraine is being invaded by Russia, there are still criminals on the streets. This is a very broken world, and always has been, even after Jesus’s death. So if Jesus really did 99% of the work, what is the point of life here on earth, and why are we not already in Heaven? Remember, the road to Heaven is narrow, and those who find it are few. If such is the case, what precisely did Jesus’s death accomplish? It was certainly for our salvation, and history often states he is the most influential person on the face of the earth, but He merely opened the door towards that salvation. We have to make the effort of walking through that door. For whoever does not take up his cross and follow Jesus, whoever does not place Him above mother, father, friend, or lover, cannot be His disciple.

        Paul often uses the phrase “works of the law,” and particularly in that Galatians passage that you quoted, which is a key phrase. You need to think about what that phrase means. Scott Hahn, a converted Protestant to Catholic minister states the meaning of “works of the law” as follows:

        “…several modern scholars believe Paul had something more specific in mind when he used the ‘works of the law’ formula. According to these scholars, Paul used this phrase to refer primarily to the Mosaic ceremonial works. It is mainly the visible expression of Jewish life and identity, like circumcision, dietary regulations, purity codes, Sabbath observance, and the liturgical calendar of Old Covenant feasts, that Paul contrasts with faith. These are the ritual distinctives that set Jews apart from Gentiles in the Hellenistic world of the first century. In support of this thesis, its advocates note how this issue consistently surfaces when Paul is talking about the salvation of Jews and Gentiles. They likewise point out, from the wider context of Romans and Galatians, that the apostle stresses the irrelevance of ceremonial rites like circumcision.”

        This is a proper interpretation of the passage. Note that it uses cultural, logical, and literary means to properly interpret the passage. Protestants, however, love to claim that it means “good works,” will focus so much on its literal translation, and don’t go into any more thought than that. By doing this, they can then bend the verse with their dislike for us and their anachronistic interpretations. Much like how the devil uses God’s work against him, scripture is being profaned against that which is the truth.

        The irony, too, is that the Catholic Church would agree that pure observance of tradition without God is deplorable. A true Catholic practices the tradition because they love God, and not simply for the sake of tradition. I don’t know what Catholics you’ve met, Mr. Stone, but the ones I know have such an undeniable reverence for God. If you would criticize them, then you are most definitely stereotyping them, and the foundation of stereotyping and criticism is hatred, not love.

      • skines44@yahoo.com

        We are to honor God with our lives, not with 40 days of doing without fried chicken and candy, as one of my Catholic friends is doing.  God wants YOU.  When we “give up” something for lent, many times it is done so that people can see how pious and religious we are.  While the Bible does not mention lent, doing without food (fasting) for a period of time is certainly indicated in Scripture.  So as long as the motive is pure and the person participating does not think he/she is earning favor from God, or somehow helping themselves get to heaven, or to impress others, there is certainly no harm done.  I prefer to follow Scriptural commands for Christians, not man made traditions, and the Bible is clear about that.

      • A. Lee

        The Bible was compiled by Catholics in the 4th century AD. It was compiled on the basis of forming a foundation for Christian faith, and to separate heretical teachings from true teachings. It would therefore be logical that God’s church, the Catholic Church, would be the proper church to interpret what the Bible actually means, and not some person who treats it like some psychological Rorshach test to conveniently fit what they wish to believe rather than what is truth.

      • Jason Stone

        The Catholic Church is God’s church?? Since when? I’m almost positive that God would not condone mass murdering in order to “spread” the word. If you truly look at what Jesus was for and against, catholic preists and popes look more like pharisees than followers of christ. Giant temples, adorned robes, “holier than thou” attitudes, preists trying to be the segway between God and man (i,e confession), when the relationship should be personal between God and man. Find the passage in the Bible that says you must confess your sins to a priest so he can absolve you of them, and then you can be made clean again.

      • A. Lee

        Not sure where you get the mass murder part. I went to mass last week, and… wow, you should have seen us, the priest read three readings and said a homily, then we shook hands with everyone, and we all met after church to see how each of us was doing.

        Gee, that was deadly, so many people died from that mass, the police came and everything. Yep. us Catholics, we’re murderers, every last one of us.

      • Jason Stone

        One word….Crusades

      • A. Lee

        Sorry but you need to do more research yet again. The Crusades were meant to defend pilgrims from the Muslims. it was not geared toward expansionism, though typically biased anti-Catholic Protestants tend to say so.

        Besides, if you’re going into a Catholic board forcing your opinion upon Catholics, just without swords and guns, but with words, who is the crusader here, as you would define it?

      • A. Lee

        As for the “wealthy” property of the Church, that is NOT the Pope’s property, that is NOT the Bishop’s property, that is GOD’s property, which WE built for HIM. If you wish to criticize that and tell us how wasteful we are, I suggest you learn and refer to this passage and not be like Judas:

        John 12:1-11

        Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus* and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

        Then Judas the Iscariot, one [of] his disciples, and the one who would betray him, said,

        “Why was this oil not sold for three hundred days’ wages* and given to the poor?”

        He said this not because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.

        So Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial.*

        You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

        [The] large crowd of the Jews found out that he was there and came, not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

        And the chief priests plotted to kill Lazarus too,

        because many of the Jews were turning away and believing in Jesus because of him.

      • A. Lee

        Taken from “Catholic Answers” -

        God had sent Jesus to forgive sins, but after his resurrection Jesus told the apostles,

        “‘As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21–23).

        (This is one of only two times we are told that God breathed on man, the other being in Genesis 2:7, when he made man a living soul. It emphasizes how important the establishment of [confession to a priest] was.)

      • StEwPiD_MoNkEy

        what did god do? Create a world with fore knowledge of who will live and who will die? Then gave a fake sacrifice? Yeah…an immortal being chilling for a couple of days is not a biggie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/1busymomx4 Heather Bartelheimer

    Thank you for a great explanation. My homeschool children needed clarification and I think this may be the ticket.

  • maribel

    thanx 4 the great article,it helpd me write an essay of my own 4 a class:D

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