Which Sacrifice is Better: Self Imposed or Inflicted?
Lent begins next week for the Eastern Catholic Church on Monday and for the Western Church as a whole on Wednesday. While there are many regulations and ideas regarding fasting, days of abstinence and sacrifice, we will focus on a deeper spiritual idea today. If you are interested in regulatory issues, please review blogs from last year that are archived, but this year I would rather focus on a deeper mystical issues. Issues that Christian Counseling should look at as true methods for spiritual growth instead of merely giving something up and “grumbling about it for forty days”.
The first concept lies in obedience. So many times, in Lent, we choose our own “demise”. We pick to give up chocolate, television, or radio as our means of sacrifice. While this has merit and is not discouraged, it should not be our primary and sole purpose of Lenten sacrifice. Instead, let us focus on the small and trivial things that come before us without our consent. The annoying individual or the small ache can all be utilized as sacrifice to God. In obedience we accept what God gives us and then offer it up to the Lord. In fact, we offer all our pains and irritations up to Christ at the foot of Golgatha, as he prepares to carry our crosses. When we unite our pains with Christ, he gains merit for us and others.
So yes, voluntary sacrifice is important, as well as mandatory fasting, but the biggest impact may be in the unexpected and unwanted sacrifice that comes our way. In obedience and charity we can make these things the biggest sacrifices for this Lent.
Tied to this obedience will grow a closer union with God. This is the purpose of Lent! The great mystics, St. Teresa of Avilla and St. John of the Cross all emphasized in their mystical theologies, the importance of union with God. Obedience was always central in their teaching. Through Lent, we exercise the first step of that union via purgation. Sacrifice enables the soul to purge itself of the false idols of this world and enter into a state where the soul becomes pure and more able to receive illumination, which then leads to unity.
This Lent, let us purge ourselves, but not only by our chosen end but by whatever God may send us. This is truly the heavy cross–and much heavier than self imposed penance. If we wish to emulate Christ, we must realize his sacrifice was not his choice but one he accepted via obedience. Christ was not able to pick or choose a way he would redeem us but was ultimately given only one choice and he accepted that cross. Let our Lenten sacrifices also include the unexpected cross that God may give us.
If you are interested in learning more about Christian Counseling, then please review the program.
Mark Moran, MA