By LORRAINE V. MURRAY | Published March 19, 2021
I was a chubby child who dreaded Lent, since it seemed like just another diet. I dutifully gave up sweets, then would sneak into the kitchen and snag chocolate chip cookies that my mother had stashed in the freezer until Lent was over.
It was many years before I understood the connection between sacrifices and love. For example, it didn’t occur to me as a child that my mother’s life was filled with self-denial.
She got up early to make breakfast for the family, then taught school all day, returning tired in the afternoons. There was no resting, though, because she immediately began preparing supper and then graded papers.
Maybe the most bitter aspect of her sacrifice was that she yearned to stay home with her children, but couldn’t because of money problems.
She reluctantly left her babies each morning with a sitter and then waited at the nearby bus stop, where she could hear us crying. Worse yet, she had to withstand the comments of people around her, who spoke darkly of mothers who didn’t care for their children.
From her, I learned that everyday sacrifices show our deepest love for others. And eventually this lesson helped me realize the true meaning of Lent.
During Lent we share in our Lord’s Passion through self-denial, which Father Gerald Vann says is “a way of training ourselves to choose love instead of selfishness.”
There is evidence of sacrificial love everywhere, usually among the most humble people, who model Christ’s words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
This sacrificial love is evident in parents who are trying to pray at Mass, while patiently tending to two active toddlers and an infant. This love is seen in my friend, who cares for a 13-year old daughter and a 19-year-old son with Down syndrome.
When I encounter elderly people who are obviously in pain, but still upbeat and kind, I glimpse sacrificial love in their hearts. And when I meet priests who rush to the bedsides of the dying in the middle of the night, I see selfless reflections of Christ.
Some folks are bent under the weight of huge crosses, such as cancer, old age, loneliness, poverty. These crosses require enormous courage and grace and make the small sacrifices of Lent, which we freely choose, pale in comparison.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”
Which means that no matter how intense the suffering, God will give us the grace to endure it.
Let’s pray, especially during Lent, to see every event, every moment as coming from God. This includes our ordinary work at home and on the job, the time we spend in prayer, the joys and sufferings of each day.
That little girl long ago had it wrong, because Lent has nothing to do with diets, nothing to do with self-inflicted misery. Instead, it has to do with saying “no” to ourselves, so we can say “yes” to others.
This might mean refusing to treat ourselves to fancy meals and new clothing, and instead giving the money to the poor; praying God will open our hearts to the suffering of others; taking time to visit the sick and dying.
Christ’s death on the cross wasn’t the end of the story, but instead led to the next chapter. And the more we choose love instead of selfishness, the more we become part of that story, which is ever fulfilling and never ending.
Artwork by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.