Last year, Pope Francis said, “Lent comes to us as a providential time to change course, to recover the ability to react to the evil that always challenges us.” Indeed, Lent is a time to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.”
What, then, does “giving something up,” have to do with the evil in our lives?
The best way for me to describe it is by using Fr. Jim Shafer’s simple method, the “1-1-1 Plan.” I was introduced to it last year at my church and I discovered a profound and deeply relevant way to pray through Lent. Let’s first look at Fr. Shafer’s plan in its entirety and then discuss the significance of the Lenten sacrifice.
STEP ONE: GIVE SOMETHING UP
Giving up something for Lent has been in our tradition for centuries. While it’s tempting to give up chocolate, lose a few pounds, and call it a “good Lent,” it’s not quite what the Church had in mind. Not that your health isn’t important but the Lenten sacrifice plays a more significant role in the process.
STEP TWO: PICK SOMETHING UP
It’s about this time of year that I hear someone say, “I’d rather do something than give something up.” Well, here is the perfect opportunity. Lent is not just about fasting and sacrifice its about also about action. The next step is to add one habit that enhances your relationship with God. Since we are all so busy, Fr. Shafer challenges us to reflect on this carefully. The objective isn’t to create another commitment that drains your energy but to find one that gives you more of it. Pick up a habit that energizes you and keeps your mind straight; pick one that fills you with the Holy Spirit, re-charging you for the rest of the week.
STEP THREE: FOCUS ON ONE SIN
The last and most important step is to pick one sin that is actively working in your life. Pick one sin and name it. Are you always angry? selfish? greedy? Do you turn to certain behaviors to fill the void inside?
When you give sin a name it becomes real. It exists. You know where it lives and you can kick it out the door. This is what Francis means when he speaks of “the evil that is always challenging us.” It sneaks in and destroys like a cancer. It’s unrelenting and it doesn’t discriminate. But if we name it, we can “react” to it, as Francis says.
It’s only when we come face to face with the evil deep within us that we can begin to take our Christian discipleship seriously. Indeed, this is the heart of Lent–turning back to Christ.
RECLAIMING THE LENTEN SACRIFICE
All three steps contribute to the bigger mission of “turning away from sin.” But what can the lenten sacrifice really do for us? Traditionally, we know it can give us a taste of Christ’s sacrifice, a reminder to pray more, or even a sense of gratitude; however, one of the more practical reasons is to simply create a habit of discipline. Discipline is a like a muscle. The more we use it, more resilient we become when evil finds its way into our lives. If we cannot say “no” to a piece of chocolate, how can we say “no” to some of life’s most destructive and seductive temptations?
My college professor often joked around with us, saying, “There’s only way to get rid of a temptation!” Our class thought for a only a second before he said, “…give in!” And even when we do “give in” it finds its way back. It’s a constant battle and if we cannot stand up to the evil in our lives it will find a home in our heart, transforming us into something we never meant to be. “Giving in” is not an option–unless you want to be a slave, a prisoner in your own body.
Our Lenten sacrifice gives us an opportunity to exercise our freedom and will power, building spiritual resiliency and old-fashion discipline. It is, in fact, the most powerful weapon against the strong pull towards sin.
This Lent, I pray that we can take our Lenten sacrifices seriously–myself included. When we do, we will not only find ourselves stronger and more resilient in the face of temptation but we will also discover the full meaning of a Lent that leads to resurrection.