Lent… the time that Catholics throughout the world think of something to give up, or something extra they can do during the next 40 days until Easter.
Well, the first answer we usually hear, which is a correct answer, is that we are offering up sacrifices in union with the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. These sacrifices are what St. Paul mentioned when he said in Colossians 1:24, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” This is possible because Jesus allows us to participate in the greatest act of love there is, laying down ones life for our friends. Each sacrifice is a little tiny bit of our lives we are offering for the salvation of others.
Another good answer is that we are trying to do things to grow closer to God. For example, someone may decide to read a passage of the Bible each day during Lent.
A third reason is one that may not be as well known, but is just as important. When we do something for Lent, it is a Lenten practice, or we may even call it a Catholic practice. Let’s compare this to when we practice a sport for an upcoming game. In basketball the players have to practice shooting and dribbling the ball. They also have to run, up and down the court, a lot, over and over. This gets the players used to it. They get in shape. That way, when the end of the game comes, and the players have to keep running up and down the court, they are used to it, and less likely to get tired and fail to keep up with the opposing players.
Now, lets transfer that to life as a Catholic follower of Jesus. A Catholic may have trouble doing the right thing, because it causes discomfort or suffering. During Lent they decide to give up something like using the elevator at work, or do something extra like praying a rosary at night. Now taking the stairs instead of the elevator is inconvenient, and can even be uncomfortable if one is not in good shape. Saying the rosary at night means there is less time to do other things a person may enjoy. This is like practice. Then the time comes where you have a choice between doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing. You have a choice between doing a little extra, being a little uncomfortable, suffering a little, or missing out on something you enjoy… or you could avoid this and sin. However, you have been practicing denying yourself pleasure and offering it up to God. Because of this you are now more equipped deny yourself, to make the difficult choice, when it REALLY counts. You are better able to accept God’s grace, accept a little suffering and do the right thing.
Practice makes one a good disciple of Jesus.