What Are You Giving Up?

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March 10, 2019 – First Sunday of Lent - Luke 4:1-13

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and its powerful ritual of receiving ashes on our foreheads. While not an official Holy Day, it is one of the most-attended Catholic masses of the year. I even know non-Catholics who attend Catholic Mass that day to receive ashes. And what’s the message of Ash Wednesday? We are made from dust, and in a sense, we will return to dust. Of course, the focus is on the bodily aspect of our existence. In spirit we are created by God to live forever. Still, Ash Wednesday is a good reminder that we are not the source of our lives. God is.

Most of us are “seasonally aware” of Lent more than any other season of the Church’s year. For some this awareness began when we were children and were directed to “give up” one thing or another during Lent. For me, this meant no candy. I had a very sweet tooth.

As the weeks passed, I accumulated candy (I don’t recall how) and stored it in a container on a kitchen shelf. When Lent ended, I quickly collected my stash and consumed it all at once, which resulted in my developing my biggest sugar-high of the year. What this all had to do with being a good person or a devoted Catholic is not easily shown. All that I recall is that I was conscious through Lent of how many more days I had to wait until …

Still, the idea of “giving up” something is a good one and is rooted in what is described in today’s gospel concerning Jesus going into the desert for forty days. He fasted during that time, perhaps so that he could develop the strength to resist various temptations which would be at odds with his mission as God’s presence among us.

The temptations might be summarized as the temptation to bodily pleasure (turn stones to bread), to power over others (you can rule everyone) or even to control God (jump off the top of the temple and God will save you.).

In contrast, Jesus came to direct us to feed the hungry, to serve the needs of others, and to trust in God’s assistance no matter what. In a word, Jesus came not to be served but to serve others. We are encouraged to “give up” whatever it is that limits our loving relationship with God and with each other. We apply this message to those we encounter every day, family and others. And to do this more effectively, we might fast from what we don’t need, pray more to develop greater sensitivity to others and to trust more in God’s help. We do this especially during Lent, but let’s not forget to do this the rest of the year.

©David M Thomas, PhD


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