A Lenten Reflection: Voluntary Self-Denial
The 40 Days of Lent invites us to conversion of life
We do not get closer to God by living as materialists whose lives are spent seeking pleasure, comfort and ease.
This Lent, let us go forth into the desert with Christ, where, along with him, we deny ourselves out of love. Let us prove to God we love him above all else.
GLADE PARK, CO (Catholic Online) - During the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself to "the mystery of Jesus in the desert," where Christ, led by the spirit to be tempted by the devil, fasted for forty days (Mt 4:1-11). The penitential aspect of the Lenten season is "particularly appropriate" for various spiritual exercises, including voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving (See CCC Nos. 540, 1438).
Yet we live in an age in which the above words in reference to the teaching of our holy Catholic Church are nearly entirely foreign to the modern mind; an age in which voluntary self-denial is not only far removed from thought but a practice looked upon as an "antiquated silliness" that ought be crushed; an age in which secularist "wisdom" holds self-denial´s opposite, self-gratification, as a type of false "virtue." There are numerous examples we could cite. Let it suffice to say that the important physical and spiritual benefits of self-denial are often either forgotten or ignored.
This situation is particularly unfortunate; for we also live in an age in which there is an immense hunger for God. Yet what so often goes unrealized is the importance of combating this strong tendency we have toward enslavement by the senses; that is, the overemphasis placed upon feeding the many desires of our material body, our flesh and blood, is rarely seen for the danger that it is - often to the detriment of our spiritual soul.
Frank Sheed wote that man is often forgetful of the fact that he is both body and spirit: he belongs essentially to both these realities, those of the world of matter and the world of spirit. "In both worlds [man] has the closest and most vital contacts: it is a pity that he is so much more keenly aware of the lower one, and so sketchily and intermittently aware of the upper, for both are realities, and realities that affect him profoundly" (Theology and Sanity, p. 163). Over-emphasis of the flesh and de-emphasis of the spirit is a grave mistake.
The Doctor of Prayer, St. Teresa of Avila, observes that we often fail to understand ourselves: "It is no small pity, and would cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, . . . if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, . . . though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us so, that we possess souls. . . . All our interest is centered in the rough setting of the diamond, and the outer wall of the castle - that is to say, in these bodies of ours" (Interior Castle, p. 4).
Our Lord Jesus Christ´s life presents us with countless examples of self-denial. We can be certain that at Nazareth he, along with his Mother and Joseph, lived a quiet, ascetic life of simplicity and prayer; a life which was intently focused on the spiritual, on the love of God. As mentioned above, Christ went into the desert to fast and pray - an act of self-denial - in order that he would become not only hungry but be severely tempted. After leaving the desert, Jesus "returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit" (Lk 4:14) where he taught in the synagogues. Luke seems to imply that Jesus was strengthened by his actions of self-denial. And, in the ultimate act of self-denial, our Savior gives his life on the Cross for the love of men, many of whom mistreated him and uttered hateful words against him.
But why is self-denial so important for us? For the simple fact that we do not get closer to God by living as materialists whose lives are spent seeking pleasure, comfort and ease, while our immortal soul, which will live on into eternity, is starved. Second, due to the fact that the flesh is weak, it is easy to fall into sin; therefore the body must be forced to subject itself to the spirit. The flesh must be trained, subdued in order that the intellect and the will are able to rule over it more easily.
St. Paul tells us that "the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would" (Gal 5:17). And Christ warns his disciples in Gethsemane that "the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Mt 26:41).
The spirit must exercise self-control over the body: "Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor 9:25-27).
One critical aspect of self-denial is almsgiving. Note that while wealthy people were putting their offerings into the treasury, our Savior "noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins." He brought this to the attention of his disciples, saying, "I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood" (Lk 21:1-4). It is certain that our Master notices when we deny ourselves of some convenience or entertainment and instead give those funds we would have otherwise used for our own pleasure to the poor.
Another element of self-denial is self-sacrifice; for there can be no true denial of self apart from sacrifice. We are not, of course, speaking of the type of sacrifice which seriously injures, rather we are speaking of those sacrifices we make which show God we cherish him as the greatest and highest Good - those fragrant flowers which pass from our acts of selflessness into the heavens where they are gathered by angels´ hands, made into wreaths for our loving Savior who willingly poured his blood upon the Cross for our sake, and preserved in order that we may one day clearly see the full splendor of every good deed.
There is a great and unexplainable immenseness in the mystery of sacrifice. Who can plumb the depths of the sacrificial sorrow our Blessed Mother contained within her pure heart has she stood in docile quietness before the foot of the bloodied Cross? And who can comprehend the full dimension of Christ´s sacrifice of eternal, infinite worth? We may contemplate these things until the Sun passes across the furthest reaches of the sky, yet they will, for now, remain a mystery. Nevertheless, it is certain that every sacrifice we make for love of God becomes a fragrant rose of eternal sweetness which our Lord gathers in his own glorified, loving hands.
St. Teresa, on the day she took the habit at the Convent of the Incarnation outside the walls of Avila, wrote of the wondrous kiss of love Christ presented to her as a result of her willing self-sacrifice: "When I took the habit the Lord immediately showed me how He favours those who do violence to themselves in order to serve Him. No one saw what I endured, . . . At the moment of my entrance into this new state I felt a joy so great that it has never failed me even to this day; and God converted the dryness of my soul into a very great tenderness" (Interior Castle, p. 33).
This Lent, let us go forth into the desert with Christ, where, along with him, we deny ourselves out of love. Let us prove to God we love him above all else. Let us engage in acts of voluntary self-denial, training our body, nourishing our spirit that, in prayer, we may begin to truly see the unfathomable value and riches of giving ourselves entirely over to God. It is about cultivating a love for Love. It is about, as our Savior showed us, commending our spirit unto God. For then, when at Easter we celebrate Christ´s resurrection on the third day, we may enter more fully into that wondrous plan of salvation our Savior himself has given us with such great sacrificial love.
F. K. Bartels is managing editor of catholicpathways.com. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.
Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
Universal: That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.
Rate This Article
Leave a Comment
More Lent / Easter News
- Missing The Point of Easter
- The Power of the Resurrection in our Lives: Christ Is Risen; Indeed, He Is Risen!
- Easter: Through the Octave and Beyond!
- The Happy Priest on Easter: He Has Truly Risen, We Are Free From Fear
- Holy Saturday: 'Make Sure He's Dead'
- HOLY SATURDAY: The Whole Earth Keeps Silence
- Good Friday Reflection on the Logic of the Cross
- Good Friday: The Church Born From the Wounded Side of Christ Pauses at the Cross
- Reflection on the Nature of Sin for Good Friday
- Fr. Paul Schenck: Finding Living Faith on Catechetical Sunday
- The Movie Yellow: Incest as 'Normal' and Cassavates's Slides Into the World of Woes
- The Chicago School Teachers Strike Reveals the Need For School Choice
- The Sexual Barbarians and the Dissolution of Culture
- The Happy Priest Challenges Us to Ask: Who is Jesus to Me?
- Michael Coren on Canadian Public Schools: Teachers, leave those kids alone
- We Cannot Ignore Our Consciences: Cardinal Dolan On Religious Liberty
- In the Face of Danger, Successor of Peter Travels to Lebanon as a Messenger of Peace
- Reflections on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: Who or What?
More Easter / Lent
'So it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead' - Luke 24:46
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption. continue reading
Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four canonical Gospels. (Mark 11:1.11, Matthew 21:1.11, Luke 19:28.44, and John 12:12.19) ... continue reading
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the first joy of the season, as we celebrate Our Lord's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem where he was welcomed by crowds worshiping him and laying down palm leaves before him. It also marks the beginning of Holy Week... continue reading
HOLY THURSDAY is the most complex and profound of all religious observances. It celebrates his last supper with the disciples, a celebration of Passover ... continue reading
On Good Friday, each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ has won our redemption. In the solemn ceremonies of Holy Week we unite ourselves to our Savior, and we contemplate our own death to sin in the Death of our Lord ... continue reading
Easter is the principal feast of the ecclesiastical year. Leo I (Sermo xlvii in Exodum) calls it the greatest feast (festum festorum), and says that Christmas is celebrated only in preparation for Easter. It is the centre of the greater part of the ecclesiastical year ... continue reading
For most people the easiest practice to consistently fulfill will be the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year. During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory in the United States as elsewhere. Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed (Lk. 5:35). continue reading
Everything answered from when does lent end, ashes, giving something up, stations of the cross and blessed palms. The key to understanding the meaning of Lent is simple: Baptism... continue reading
Stations of the Cross refers to the depiction of the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus, and the devotion commemorating the Passion. First Station: Jesus is condemned to death... pray the stations now
What did you give up for Lent?
From the humorous to the bizarre, people have had interesting Lenten experiences. Tell us about what you are going to give up for this Lenten Year.
What others gave up »
Alex Basile - Catholic Online, 4/10/2015
Author Alex Basile reflects of the true meaning of the Resurrection of Christ and how many Christians overlook the real joy of Easter. In the haziness of the first Easter morning, Mary Magdalene made ...Continue Reading
Fr. James Farfaglia - Catholic Online, 4/6/2015
With the resurrection of Jesus, the physical is exalted. When we truly believe in Jesus, we are resurrected in this life because we are freed from the fear and worry that are characteristic of ...Continue Reading
Randy Sly - Catholic Online, 4/6/2015
While Easter is a Solemnity and an Octave Feast, it is also a 50-day journey until Pentecost. We continue to remember his resurrection with special devotion. Saint Augustine shares this ...Continue Reading
F. K. Bartels - Catholic Online, 4/6/2015
There is great cause for belief in the Resurrection. One of the most wonderful tenets of Catholicism and the true Christian religion the Church transmits, is that the Resurrection is a historical ...Continue Reading
On Good Friday, the entire Church fixes her gaze on the Cross at Calvary. Each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ has won our redemption.
In the symbol of the Cross we can see the magnitude of the human tragedy, the ravages of original sin, and the infinite love of God. Learn More
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.
The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. Learn More
Stations of the Cross refers to the depiction of the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus, and the devotion commemorating the Passion.
ACT OF CONTRITION. O my God, my Redeemer, behold me here at Thy feet. From the bottom of my heart... Pray the Stations
'Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed' Lk. 5:35
Abstinence. The law of abstinence requires a Catholic 14 years of age until death to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted.
Fasting. The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday (Canon 97) to the 59th Birthday (i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday) to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal.
Learn More »