When I was a child, my standard Lenten practice was to give up eating sweets and watching Mickey Mouse on TV. When I reached adolescence and my religious fervor peaked, in addition to not eating sweets I abstained from watching two television shows, Ben Casey and The Man From UNCLE. For me this was a real sacrifice because it meant not only missing the programs but also being left out of the endless discussions that followed the next day at school.
Although sacrifice and mortification aren't touted as highly these days, I still value them as an efficacious means of sharing in the paschal mystery of our Lord. St. Paul reminds us that Jesus, even though He was God, emptied Himself. Thus He established forever the pattern for our own lives, showing us concretely the way to resurrection and new life. Self-denial helps us to empty ourselves, thereby making space for the Lord to grow within us until we reach the full stature of Christ Himself.
Today I don't eat sweets because they're unhealthy and I don't watch TV because I don't own a television. So I have learned to utilize those ordinary, unobtrusive opportunities for self-denial which are built into our everyday lives. For example, I can forgo being critical and judgmental of other people and be understanding and accepting of their human weaknesses and shortcomings. I can curb my impulse to refashion other people in my image and likeness and affirm their beauty and uniqueness. I can refrain from gossiping and speak kindly about others. I can let go of grudges and forgive those who have hurt me.
Further possibilities for self-denial abound. I can put aside my pride and honestly admit the error of my ways. I can surrender my desire to be in control and open myself up to our Father's loving will. I can release my fears and anxieties and trust our gracious God to provide for all my needs. I can stop complaining and magnify the good, praising the Lord for His goodness, love and mercy.
These are little practices, to be sure, but perhaps all the more precious
in God's eyes because they are small and hidden, as Jesus was in the tomb.
Let us spend some time with Him there this Lent so that we may share more
fully the wondrous new life of His Resurrection. To God be the glory!
Alice Claire Mansfield
© March 1992