The liturgical season of Lent is fast approaching. Most of us probably identify Lent primarily with “what we are going to give up.” As we prepare for our Lenten sacrifices, it is important to remember to Whom we are offering them, what kind of sacrifice is pleasing to Him, and why we do it in the first place. Today’s readings give us some help.
We offer our Lenten sacrifices to God, who is our Father and our Judge. He wants what is best for us, so He makes rules to guide us along the right path, and He is also the one Who will judge our success in following it. It isn’t easy for us to keep all of His commandments; depending on our situation in life and our personality, some rules are harder to follow than others.
For this reason, just avoiding sin and doing what is right is the first and most important offering we can make, as the first reading says. So, before we give up chocolate or watching soap operas for Lent, we should look at our own lives to see if we need try to give up things like uncharitable thoughts and words, lack of moderation with alcohol, or lustful thoughts or behavior. To use an analogy from family life, it’s nice when your child brings you flowers, but you prefer it when they do what they are told.
Of course, the flowers are nice too, especially to apologize for bad behavior, and the book of Sirach encourages us to, “in a generous spirit, pay homage to the Lord, not sparing of freewill gifts”, giving to “the Most High as He has given to you, generously, according to your means.” That means making that extra sacrifice of fasting from something good that we like, and giving to those in need; giving alms is a “sacrifice of praise”. We should also literally offer God praise in our own silent prayers and in our words of thanksgiving. As the psalm says, “offer to God praise as your sacrifice, and fulfill your vows to the Most High”.
As we talk about keeping the commandments and offering the sacrifice of prayer, fasting, and giving to those in need, we need to remember that we are doing it to follow the path that God marked out for us and illustrated in Jesus Christ our Lord. Although it is indeed a sacrifice, it is also for our own good. In todays’ Gospel reading, Jesus promises that anyone who makes sacrifices for His sake “and the sake of the Gospel” will receive a hundredfold in return. We won’t necessarily receive the same kind of sacrifice we gave, but God knows how to reward us in the best possible way. That often includes spiritual consolation in this life in the midst of difficulties, and ultimately consists in eternal life with God in heaven.
So as Lent approaches, let us think well of what sacrifices to offer to God, and look forward to it with enthusiasm, not dread, for we will be setting our feet on the the right way, and as a result, we shall see “the salvation of God”.