Are you ready for a real Lenten challenge? Pope Francis has one for you.
Every Lent, Catholics give something up, emptying their hearts to fill themselves up with the Holy Spirit. To their credit, most people give up something hard. Sodas, sweets, social media. These are great things to give up because they are challenging and our frequent urge for them helps to remind us to pray and open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit.
As challenging as these sacrifices are, the Holy Father thinks we can do better.
Pope Francis suggested it is not enough for us to make personal sacrifices that affect only ourselves. Instead, he is challenging Christians to turn their sacrifices into a gain for others.
Pope Francis quoted the early Christian mystic St. John Chrysostom, explaining: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
It can be difficult to give up things we love. Sacrificing social media or a cherished activity is difficult. But how does that sacrifice improve the world? How does it impact others? In many cases, these sacrifices inconvenience others around us. Or, they feed our ego by emphasizing our absence, such as from social media. “Hey look at how holy I am, I stopped tweeting!”
If we sacrifice a food item, our family may choose to avoid something like sweets to support your choice, but then it becomes their sacrifice too. And if we carry on about our sacrifices, then we end up listening to one another compare notes, and Lent becomes a competition. None of this is what Lent is supposed to be.
So this Lent, let us challenge ourselves to do something great. Let us make a sacrifice, but not one with the aim of gaining attention or comparing notes. Instead, let us sacrifice with the aim of helping others. If we skip a meal, let us donate food to the hungry. If we quit social media, let us add time to our family.
Our goal should not be to gain attention for ourselves but to help those in need around us. If we do this –and only if, then we do something great.
Let’s take Pope Francis’ challenge and make Lent great again.