Monday, March 2, 2009

The WHY of Sacrifice

My ten-year-old is giving up chocolate for Lent.

“What are you giving up?” she asks me.



“Stuff I don’t need.”

“But isn’t that easy? If you don’t need it, how is that a sacrifice?”

“Well, for me it’s hard to do. And I get to turn it into almsgiving, as well.”

I love it when I can kill two birds with one stone. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving: those make three. If I pray while I am sorting through my belongings, I have them all covered.

Where does the temptation come in? There is temptation to keep stuff; to be lazy; to let it gather in the garage rather than put it in the car and take it to its destination; to not do it one day because I exceeded my minimum goal of ridding my house of one cubic foot of material goods the previous day. (I remember that it matters not what we did for Christ yesterday; He holds us accountable for what we did today.)

In the long run, I and my family will benefit from this Lenten activity. My house is losing weight, so to speak.

That brings up a question I have long had about Lenten fasting. Considering the well-established fact that the majority of American adults are trying to lose weight, I think it must be a thought in the back of their minds that, in giving up candy, snacks, desserts, and meat, they might just lose weight by Easter.

And, if that thought is present, is it wrong?

I had never seen this answer addressed until recently. While reviewing blogs for Catholic Mothers Online, I came across another blogger who held that it is wrong to fast with the motivation of losing weight.

And I suddenly realized that I really disagreed with this conclusion.

I think back to the day I quit smoking. I became a casual smoker in college, and never really thought it was very bad for me. I would not have quit for myself. The day I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter, I quit. Does the fact that this decision was good for me detract from the positive motivation of doing something good for my unborn baby? I don’t think so.

Two years later, a few weeks after the birth of our second daughter, my husband quit. He was a serious smoker, at two packs a day. He was still healthy and had no motivation to quit. However, the day the state tax increased the cost of a pack to $4 (January, 1999), he realized he had to quit for the financial good of the family. He quit cold turkey, and hasn’t slipped once. Again, someone who was giving up something for someone else and benefitted by his own well-being.

As temples of the Holy Spirit, we are commanded to take care of our bodies. When we knowingly fill those temples with things that are not good for us, we are falling prey to the weakness of sin. Year round, God wants us to take care of our bodies. If it takes a sacrifice to God to make it finally happen, I believe He is pleased. If we make that a lasting change, it is even better.

I read that Gwyneth Paltrow regularly goes on cleansing fasts of a minimum of ten days, during which she consumes nothing but water, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. That would be a fast with the prime motivation of losing weight – and one which most of us would not be capable of holding up to. Now, losing weight or quitting smoking should not be the only motivation in our fasts, but the fact that it is difficult and we are willing to do it for God, while offering up our suffering in prayer, I believe makes it an acceptable Lenten sacrifice.

“But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you.”
Philippians 2:17

Landscape with the Temptation of Christ, Joos de Momper, 1564

Also posted at St. Blog’s The Divine Gift of Motherhood.

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