A Lenten Reflection: Voluntary Self-Denial
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.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Penance, lent, Conversion, ascesis, Repentance, self denial, Fred Bartels
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