This might be a great way to make these 40 days transformative.
Lent isn’t about doing something difficult for the sake of doing something difficult. Nevertheless, our Lenten sacrifices should be felt. If you give up chocolate, but never eat it anyway because you’re allergic, what kind of sacrifice is that?
Our Lenten penances should be noticeable. We ought to experience them; it’s that recognition and redirection of desire that makes a Lenten penance transformative. Here are five reasons to consider giving up alcohol for Lent.
1It’s a real sacrifice
Alcohol, in itself, is a neutral thing in Christian life. Wine and beer alike have a noble place in our Catholic tradition. Christ provided wine for the wedding feast. Monks cultivated some of the best beer brewing techniques in the world. This is precisely the reason why the sacrifice of alcohol is a meritorious one.
Venerable Matt Talbot, an alcoholic who miraculously received the grace of sobriety, writes, “The spiritual life consists in two things—mortification and the love of God.” Forgoing a good in our lives to make room for higher things.
But what do I say to my friends? One reason people shy away from this or that particular sacrifice is because they don’t want to draw attention to their Lenten penance. After all, the Gospel exhorts us to undertake our fasts in secret, assuring us that our Father who sees in secret will reward us.
But it can be encouraging when a friend undertakes and shares something difficult. In fact, it’s best to get someone to join you. The boast of me becomes transformed by Christian community. I becomes us, together.
2Clarity of mind
The simple fact is that advancement in the spiritual life can be hindered by alcohol. Alcohol is one of those easy ways we numb our loneliness, exhaustion, or disillusion. It’s easier to have a drink than to grapple head on with the darker things that lurk in our hearts.
An alcohol fast focuses our hearts. It helps us to recognize hunger, anger, and fatigue for what they are. Even if you’re a long way from dependency, only having a few drinks a week, alcohol invites a kind of slumber, a certain kind of softness of mind and heart. At times this relaxation can be a healthy way to enjoy life — surely that’s why Jesus worked his miracle at Cana — but that’s all the more reason that foregoing for 40 days is worthwhile.
Self-knowledge is the foundation of the spiritual life. St. Catherine of Siena writes, “You will find humility in the knowledge of yourself when you see that even your own existence comes not from yourself but from me [Jesus], for I loved you before you came into being.” If we are using other things, like alcohol, as crutches in our lives, we will not be able to realize our need for utter dependence on God.
Abstinence from alcohol has been linked in numerous studies to a host of health benefits, not the least of which is better sleep. Most people enjoy a drink for the initial stimulating effects: feeling at ease, being able to converse more readily, etc.
But as a depressant, alcohol can engender cycles of dysfunction. A few servings make it difficult to rise the next morning, leading to a missed workout, indulgence in fast food to catch a quick meal, and so on. Abstaining from alcohol builds up the ability to make virtuous lifestyle choices, making weight loss easier and good sleep more readily attained.
Going without a drink for the 40 days of Lent invites direct solidarity with people who struggle with drug and alcohol addiction. Offering up this sacrifice on behalf of the men and women who struggle with alcohol offers an abundance of graces to be exchanged among the body of believers.
Pope Benedict XVI says of solidarity, “True solidarity—though it begins with an acknowledgment of the equal worth of the other—comes to fulfillment only when I willingly place my life at the service of others.”
To freely, willingly deprive myself of a true good to share the spiritual merits of that sacrifice attains to the love Jesus exhorts in the Gospel, “No greater love is there than this, than to lay down one’s life for a friend.”
5Love in action
Our Lenten disciplines free us from our disordered attachments. This freedom is not simply freedom from, but it is also freedom for. Don’t simply hoard the money that you would otherwise have spent on alcohol. Donate to your parish poor box, for the relief of those in need. After all, when the poor have the good news of Christ’s mercy preached to them, it is a certain sign of Christ’s presence.