Mom -- Mother Church -- knows what's best for us. And when we follow her advice, we find that, even if we didn't initially understand the reason, our actions bear good fruit.
But, we always want the long answer, don't we?
First, occasionally people say, "You don't have to give anything up -- just take on something positive." I have a couple of thoughts about this perspective. While I understand the good intention behind the "positive spin" (that instead of giving up candy or some other trifle which can seem meaningless one is trying to do something of more"importance") I think it overlooks the good that is inherent in fasting.
I also want to point out that in "taking something on" we are making a sacrifice. If we sacrifice leisure time in order to do something else -- read more Scripture, pray at an abortion clinic, volunteer at a food pantry, or do something else that is a good -- then that is certainly a sacrifice offered in the spirit of Lent. Scripture reading, prayer, talking with a frightened woman who is tempted to abort her child, helping to feed the hungry -- these are corporal and spiritual works of mercy that yield real results, both seen and unseen.
Additionally, on the subject of results we can see, here's a small, but concrete benefit of a fast: if we save the money we would have spent on the trifles (how much is a bag of M&Ms? What's the beer budget? The cost of meat for forty days?) and donate it, we see the results of our sacrifice. Our children see it. The trifles suddenly don't seem to be such a trifle when we realize how much we normally spend on them.
But, second, why do we feel the need to put a "positive" spin on something that is already positive? For a Christian, isn't sacrifice always a positive? If what Jesus did for us isn't the ultimate positive example, then I've got the wrong religion.
Sometimes, we're looking for loopholes and an easier road. But, there's no easy road to avoiding sin. It's an uphill battle for us, this fallen lot. So, let's listen to Mom and give Lent the spin it deserves.
We now return to our regularly scheduled post.
I never say anything better than the Catechism of the Catholic Church does, so I'll direct you to a couple of passages that discuss sacrifice, mortification and spiritual progress.
The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.
It remains for the holy people to struggle, with grace from on high, to obtain the good things God promises. In order to possess and contemplate God, Christ's faithful mortify their cravings and, with the grace of God, prevail over the seductions of pleasure and power.
And, from Scripture:
"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." -- Matthew 6:21
During Lent, we are called to "pray, fast and give." (See this document for more info.) In taking on additional prayer time, or attending daily Mass more often, or praying the Stations of the Cross, or other devotions such as the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, in fasting from festive food and drink, or from various entertainments or areas of excess, and in freely giving of our time and money, we see that it's not a matter of "either/or." We don't ask, "Should I pray more? Or should I fast from something? Or should I give of my time? Give away a few more dollars?"
To pray, to fast and to give are all intimately connected. Progress and growth in one area fuels further progress in the others.
This trinity is the foundation of a meaningful Lent. When I start there, good things happen.