Growing up Catholic in the 1980s and ’90s, I was taught to do one thing during Lent: give up sweets. For most of my life, that is what I did each year, and I thought nothing about it. However, I began to ask the questions, is that really a sacrifice? Does it help my relationship with God if I don’t eat candy during the week and then binge on Sunday?
As I grew in my faith, I felt I had to do more. I mean Christ went through a cruel death, being scourged and nailed on a cross for me, and all I can do in return is give up eating a cookie?
So I went on a quest to see what I should do during Lent. The Church doesn’t dictate much, as she only requires fasting and abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstinence from meat on each Friday of Lent. The custom of “giving up” something is an ancient pious practice, but there are no rules that regulate it; canon law doesn’t tell me that I must give up chocolate for Lent, only my second-grade CCD teacher.
I knew then that I had to do some soul searching and discernment to discover what type of sacrifices I should practice during Lent. Whatever I did, I knew it had to hurt; only then could I be united to Christ in his most brutal Passion.
What I came up with over the years were both positive forms of sacrifice as well as negative. I chose to give up something for Lent as well as add something extra for Lent. Both types of “sacrifices” are valid and help us grow in our relationship with Christ.
What did I do? Here is a short list (in no particular order) of things I have chosen to do for Lent over the years (not all at once), and I hope it will act as a sort of guide for you to discern what type of sacrifices to practice this Lent:
- No Video Games. Talk about hard. One year I gave up playing video games, and that was hard to do. However, it helped me grow as a person and allowed me to focus on what really matters. It also helped me cut down on the many hours I played video games. After Easter, I decided to limit my time instead of playing for hours on end.
- Watch The Passion of the Christ. Mel Gibson’s film is still one of the most powerful movies I have ever watched. I made it a practice to watch The Passion of the Christ during Lent to remind myself of the immense love that God has for me.
- Limit Facebook Time. I know many people who give up Facebook entirely for Lent, but I just never felt like I had to do that. Instead, I chose to limit my time to checking it maybe once or twice a day. This may seem kind of cheap, but I am often tempted to check it 10-15 times a day. Do I really need to check it that often?
- Choose a Spiritual Book to Read. It is the practice of many monasteries to choose a common spiritual book to read during Lent. I pick a book that I can read during Lent that is new and that will challenge me in my spiritual life. If you don’t know where to look, Aleteia has a great guide for Lenten reading.
- Check E-mail Twice a Day. The smartphone has taken checking your e-mail to a new level and allows you to check it constantly. I just checked it a minute ago. Do I really have urgent e-mails all the time?
- Pray the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet. In place of checking my e-mail or Facebook, I try to replace that with some sort of prayer. One idea is praying the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet to fill the void and do something positive.
- Focus on a Specific Sin to Stop During Lent. Lent is also a great time for spiritual renewal and if you have a specific sinful habit that you need to stop (like viewing pornography or participating in gossip), it is good to use that time to focus on ridding that sin from your life. Any priest that I have ever spoken to suggests focusing on one sin. Often when we try to tackle every sin in our lives, we move nowhere. However, when we focus on one particular sin, we can gain a small victory over the enemy’s hold on us.
So this Lent, consider doing something beyond giving up sweets. Look at a crucifix and contemplate the sacrifice Christ made for you and me. That is our model. Let us do something for Lent that is, if not heroic, at least a reminder of what he suffered.
[Note, the recently launched Lenten App for Young People was announced after this pieces was published. – Editor]
Philip Kosloski is a writer and blogger. His blog can be found at philipkosloski.com.