There's a strangely interesting backlash on the Catholic internet against giving up chocolate for Lent and I have to admit, I find it...weird. I'm not even referring to one person or post. I've seen at least a couple dozen Facebook posts, ad campaigns, memes, comments and more urging people to do anything BUT give up chocolate. And I'm kinda like...huh? What did chocolate do to anyone (besides be delicious)? Or maybe there's a scandal and the Catholic internet is being paid off by big cocoa. On one hand people are saying that the little sacrifices matter, that God cares for the little daily offerings we can give Him, but apparently that just DOES NOT apply to the stress chocolate I've shoved into my mouth for the third time today. I'm a third laughing, a third kinda puzzled, and a third wondering how many people are maybe harboring and rationalizing some serious addictions to the bean. But I guess more than anything I'm just kind of surprised by the amount of people who seem to think that sacrificing something (even if they deem it small or boring) doesn't have merit for its own sake.
I mean, I get it, sort of? I *think* the underlying message is that we should put some intention and thought into our individual Lenten practices. We should do something more personal that will help us grow in holiness and virtue and help us become better people. But who's arguing that? And since when can little acts of self-denial not contribute to that? And since when is chocolate not personal? Chocolate and I are very good friends, thankyouverymuch. There might even *cough* be moms out there who maaaybe rely on that chocolate just a little too much to get them through the day (read: sneak eat handfuls of chocolate chips while crouched over the kitchen counter when the kids' heads are turned away and then try not to breathe anywhere near them because they always always always smell it). Maybe for that totally hypothetical woman it would be a great offering to Jesus to give that crutch up? That's a beautiful thing to do! Who is anyone to tell someone that their little act of non-obligatory penance isn't good or creative enough? (Watch me hold myself back from coining the term "penance-shaming." You're welcome.) Perhaps there are people who do just automatically give up chocolate as a part of Lent without much intense discernment but again...what's wrong with that? Seriously, I'm asking. Lent is a season of the desert. It's a season of penance and self-denial. Fasting is important. Denying yourself something JUST FOR THE SAKE OF DOING IT even if it's NOT something that is an obstacle to holiness is a worthy thing to do. Jesus didn't need to improve Himself when He went into the desert. He didn't have sins He needed to work on or attachments He needed to break. He did it because it is good, to prepare for His mission, to pray for the world, and to give us an example. Setting Lent apart by taking out the extra indulgences...well, isn't that part of the whole thing and really good for us?
Father Stephen Grunow reminded yesterday that "fasting toughens us for mission. In a conscious and deliberate attempt to deprive ourselves small things, we prepare ourselves for the occasions when we will be asked to deprive ourselves of greater things. All this is accomplished for the sake of the mission Christ gives to us. His mission, our mission is love, and love always necessitates a sacrifice." This sacrifice of love doesn't need to be novel or elaborate to be beautiful.
Fasting isn't just about us and our own soul, though. Little (or big) acts of self-denial are good for our spiritual life, yes. They give authenticity to our love for God, true. But they also have power beyond what we can comprehend. Offering your sacrifice in atonement for the sins of others or for a special intention or for peace in the world or for a loved one's conversion has ACTUAL power to change things. Oh, how the devil wants us to forget that. We don't need to know how it works, we just need to believe that it does (and then do it). As Father John Riccardo points out (permit me a paraphrase): How does it work? Who knows. But we know that it does and we need to be doing it. The saints sure liked to do it anyway.
Maybe part of it is our social media generation that thinks everything has to be novel and new to be worthy of clicking. But I'm pretty sure that far more important than creative Pinterest-worthy, viral, newer and never before thought of Lenten practices and reflections is simply and humbly recognizing that sometimes our sins - and the cures to them - aren't all that glamorous. Holiness isn't measured by novel ideas and we aren't going to reach sainthood with The Perfect Innovative Lenten Plan. There's nothing wrong with being creative, obviously, and tailoring a unique fast specific to your soul and struggles. Go for it. But there's nothing wrong with doing something that might be considered kinda boring either, if it helps you to grow in holiness and is offered to Him in love. In fact, there's a certain amount of pride in thinking that we're above that.
Honestly? I feel like underneath some of it might be an insidious little belief that fasting really isn't all that important (sometimes with a small helping of condescension on the side because you can't ignore the inferred jab at all those less-spiritually enlightened people). If you're not familiar with the family, there's a close cousin "I'd rather do something extra" that often joins in. ("Some demons can only be driven out by prayer and adding some good works..." Something like that, right?) It can be a little bit presumptuous to insist that we need to improve upon or suddenly evolve past more than 4,000 years of Judeo-Christian tradition (not to mention other cultures and faith traditions that value fasting). Perhaps we need to be a little bit wary of a message that is turning Lent and the traditions of the Church into something of modernity's own making. And I guess I just think we need to also be careful that we don't sneer at the little sacrifices of others as being pointless or the big ones as being old-fashioned or repressive. Fasting is good for you and it's good for the world...even when it's boring old (delicious) chocolate.