A contemporary Catholic author and speaker gave the following advice: "Don't give up chocolate for Lent. Instead do something life-changing. Have the best Lent ever!" The wisdom of this simple statement is that there is something deeper and greater that the Lord invites us to during Lent. As we enter into the heart of Lent this month, our Lord calls us to conversion and he invites us to transformation in Christ.
The Lord Jesus demonstrated that transformation occurs through the cross. As he suffered on the cross, Jesus was the epitome of sacrifice, giving his life for ours and that of the world. In Scripture we hear from Jesus, "Greater love no man has than to lay down his life for another." The life of Jesus detailed in the Gospel narratives, shows us that sacrifice leads to transformation. Unfortunately, transformation can be short circuited by a culture that values leisure and individualism to the extreme. At times, it appears that the value of sacrifice has been forgotten. However, under close examination, every relationship and walk of life, involves sacrifice. In fact, it is part of the human condition.
At times, things are taken from us such as a job that we enjoyed or a loved one who has passed on too soon. At other times, we freely choose to give up something such as time or money, or even bad habits that we may have developed over the years. Intuitively we know that if it feels difficult, it's a sacrifice. At other times, sacrifice is motivated by self-interest, such as the extra 10 pounds we may want to lose. Nonetheless, it is still sacrifice. When we make a sacrifice for God, it is something freely done out of love and reverence for Him. Sacrifices made in this spirit are truly acts of love, and what God wants most from us is our love.
During the holy season of Lent, the call of Jesus to take up or cross and follow Him becomes real. Under these circumstances, the quality of our discipleship is tested. When we embrace the cross, we discover its weight and heaviness, and we experience its true burden. Under its weight, the cross brings us to our knees.
The sacrifices we make during Lent can come in thousands of different forms. Perhaps our fasting needs to reach deeper dimensions such as refraining from gossip or the need to see and hear everything. Taking up our own unique cross might mean reflecting upon our lives and accepting the losses that God has allowed. All the saints demonstrate that the path to God includes sacrifice in all its forms. If we want to be transformed and discover the new life that Jesus invites us to, we can't expect to avoid what Jesus did not avoid when he took up the cross.
As we all enter the home stretch of Lent, the words of the Second Letter to the Corinthians come to mind, "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." Our Lenten sacrifices and disciplines contain within them the seeds of our own rebirth. The tiny seeds of sacrifice that we plant today can bear fruit beyond our imaginings. Real sacrifice is transformative.