Dear Parishioners and Friends,
What to give up for Lent? Today’s reading from James is a helpful guideline. He says, “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
An opportunity for holy detachment
So don’t worry too much about whether you will give up this or that particular thing. Instead, give up anything — and everything — in the world that you are attached to apart from God. Here’s some perspective:
- St. John of the Cross says that “the mortification of the appetites and denial of pleasure in all things” is necessary because “a person’s attachments to creatures [i.e. things of this world] are pure darkness in God’s sight.”
- Later, he says that attachment to any appetite does violence to the soul. “A soul is tormented and afflicted when it reclines on it’s appetites just as is something lying taken on thorns and nails.”
- St. Benedict says simply: “Discipline your body: do not pamper yourself but love fasting.”
So I’m not going to give you suggestions for what to give up because the ultimate goal is more important, which is detachment. (You can find modern practical suggestions for Lent at Aleteia or you could defer to the medieval western form). The saints are clear, however, that bodily deprivation helps us to depend more on God and is a first step toward addressing the attachments of the heart.
The next step
Our Gospel reading today turns towards matters of the heart when the disciples argue about “who will be the greatest.” In light of this, St. Francis de Sales said, “Fasting is only virtue when it is accompanied by conditions which render it pleasing to God…without humility it is worth nothing.” Yet sensible self-denial often leads to humility as we learn to lean on God’s strength and surrender our will to his.
To this end, one more word from St. John of the Cross. He says that if we want real holiness, then cast out “all alien affections and attachments.” When the soul is stripped of all the old cravings and satisfactions, he says, then God causes “the abilities of one’s natural being, to cease.” This is the when supernatural strength begins, with the result being a life of praise and love. (Ascent to Mount Carmel, 1:3:7)
Lent is not an end in itself. It’s an opportunity to seek God with all that is within us, so that our praise and love grow without end.