One of my very favorite things about the Catholic Church is how very, very hairsplittingly precise we can be. As of today, it's not just Lent anymore. It's now Lent 2.0. Lent squared. Lent with those intense trainer people with not an ounce of fat on them that train the tubbies on that TV show where overeaters are forced to stand in front of the nation in their underwear. Yesterday was "Passion Sunday", which marks the beginning of a subseason of Lent as we follow the events leading up to the death of Jesus on the Cross. Passiontide.
Which gives me the perfect opportunity to address this question from a reader about my own Lenten ideals:
Question: If the purpose of giving something up for Lent (such as dieting or smoking) is NOT for a reward at the end, why give up anything at all? Isn't the purpose of giving something up for Lent for the ultimate end reward of eternal life with God? Is an eternity with God in heaven less of a reward than a skinnier behind or pinker lungs?
I am a DRE for our parish, and I teach the kids that they should "give up" something that prohibits them from being closer to God. Theoretically, a person may have a weight issue because they are eating to fill a need. Might I suggest during Lent a person look to God to fill that need rather than food? Isn't the hope that whatever sacrifice is offered during Lent carry forward into the entire year or an entire life?
The reward at the end of Lent is a closer relationship with Jesus. The reward for giving up smoking is a longer life, less stinky clothing, some extra cash and the admiration of your loved ones. And while you may suffer and turn to prayer as a means of coping, the focus is on you and your health, not you and your relationship with Christ.
The same may be said of dieting. If the focus of the outcome of Lent for you is looking better in your jeans, then you are barking up the wrong tree. Even if you try not to focus on how much better you'll look, the fact is, you are going to be enjoying how much better you will be looking. Lent lasts for quite a while. If you diet all through Lent, your Easter bonnet will be the last thing anyone notices on Easter Sunday.
The rewards of Lent are all spiritual. The hope is that the renewed focus on your relationship with Jesus will carry forward into the year and into your life. I maintain that if you want to break bad habits, do it on your own time. Figuring out what need you are filling with Dortios is a very good thing to do, but it has nothing to do with the sacrifice Jesus made for you.
Sometimes simple is better. Give up something you like a lot. One thing. One thing you'll notice every day. And while you do that, you can think about what Jesus did for you.
Think of it as a very long meditation. Utilize the Sorrowful Mysteries.
I suppose there may be one earthly reward for this exercise: a more disciplined mind.
A more disciplined mind that you will be able to put to even better use next time Lent rolls around.