As children, Lent was the time for giving up something. Candy, ice cream, chocolate and movies were all popular. Of course, television was the ultimate sacrifice. Hopefully as we mature physically and spiritually, Lent takes on a much deeper and richer meaning. But let’s stay for now with the idea of giving up something.
Of course we did not know it as children, but the concept of giving up has ancient roots in the Old Testament and beyond. Those roots are found in the concept of sacrifice. For pagans sacrifice was usually in the context of placating an angry god by offering something of great value. In some cultures ritual sacrifice came to be seen as necessary to save the world from destruction.
Rejecting the pagan idea that sacrifice was some kind of magical act that would temper a god’s anger, the Israelites understood sacrifice as an act of worshiping the God of creation or an act of repentance for violating a boundary established by God in his commandments. In offering a sacrifice, something of great value to the person, was freely given up to the service of God or others.
Parents make great sacrifices for the love of their children; soldiers make great sacrifices for their country. Both are good examples of sacrificing things of great value for the good of others.
The ultimate sacrifice is to freely give up your life for others, as Jesus did in his sacrificial death to repent for the many times that men and women had crossed God’s boundaries by sin. That sacrifice with his Resurrection culminates our Lenten journey in the Triduum from Holy Thursday to Easter.
Sacrifice then in the Judeo-Christian tradition is freely giving up something of real value to God as an act of worship. It shows God’s primacy in our lives. He is number one. Pope Benedict speaks of the “idolatry of goods” which “divests man, making him unhappy, deceiving, and deluding him without fulfilling its promises, since it puts materialistic goods in the place of God, the only source of life.”
Put off buying that new car or new barbecue for the back yard and give that money to God by giving it to the poor through Catholic Charities. We used to call that giving alms. The Pope has something to say about that too: “The practice of almsgiving is a reminder of God’s primacy and turns our attention towards others, so that we may discover how good our Father is, and receive his mercy.”
Now, what are you giving up for Lent?