April 24, 2024

By Shannan McQuade

It seems as if the season of Lent always sneaks up and catches me by surprise. Advent and Christmas come and suddenly, it’s February, and we are jumping into Lent with Ash Wednesday Mass. More so, what I’m least prepared for every Lent is the sacrifice in which I will journey with our Lord toward Calvary with the desire of growing to be more like him.

Through the years of continually being caught off guard in discerning a lenten almsgiving, it has become a great opportunity to reflect upon why I make an extra sacrifice during this season of preparation and how I can use my sacrifice as a way of prayerfully entering into the season of preparation.

Why sacrifice during Lent?

In St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Summa Theologiae,” he writes, “A sacrifice that is offered outwardly represents the inward spiritual sacrifice, whereby the soul offers itself to God.” In sacrificing, we choose to take on some kind of outward action with the desire of an inner spiritual reaction. The goal of sacrifice is that we may elevate our minds and hearts toward the Father with the hopes of becoming more like him.

With this in mind, a space is created in which we can become more intentional with the sacrifices we make throughout Lent. If the purpose of sacrificing something for Lent is to elevate our minds and hearts to the eternal so that the Father might sanctify us, then it becomes ever more important that we prayerfully choose that action that will achieve this goal.

Discerning a sacrifice

I have a vivid memory of discussing lenten sacrifices with my parish priest as a young child and sharing with him that I was giving up chocolate for Lent, but it would not be that bad because I didn’t really like chocolate anyway. He very gently responded by asking me if it was really a sacrifice then.

Shannan McQuade
is the director of faith formation at St. Katharine Drexel Parish.
(Photo by Jackie Marko of Timshel Studios)

I often come back to this conversation, and, over the years, I have deepened my understanding of sacrifice and approached sacrificing during Lent differently. Now, when prayerfully deciding what I am going to do to elevate my mind and heart during this very specific season of preparation, I first begin by looking at what I would like to do differently in my relationship with the Lord. What are some areas that could be better? How can I go about making those areas better? How can I challenge myself?

One year, I was wanting to complain less and instead lead with a grateful heart, so I gave up my bed. I slept on the floor of my dorm room in a sleeping bag so I could turn my heart and my mind toward being thankful for the blessing of a bed.

A different year, I desired to recognize the presence of the Lord in my everyday life. I wanted him to be part of everything I did, and I desired to be aware of it. So, I gave up secular music. Seems like an odd correlation, but when music filled so much of my empty time and space, I figured that if I filled that emptiness with songs of praise toward God, I would become more aware of moments in which I could invite him in and give him the glory. To my surprise, what happened was those “empty moments” turned into quiet, peaceful moments of silence that were filled with the presence of the Lord.

While it may seem as if Lent catches us off guard every year and comes upon us in a hurry, it is always a new opportunity to look at the way in which we choose to live our everyday lives. Which parts are centered around Christ and his will for us? Which parts are not? What are some areas in our life where we can better unite ourselves to him?

Lent is the perfect opportunity to sacrifice something that is better replaced with Christ and in which our minds and hearts become elevated to him.

Sacrificing with intention

We are reminded in the Gospel of John, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). During the preparatory season of Lent, we are reminded of the great sacrifice Christ makes for all of mankind on the cross. And, in this time of preparation, we are presented with the opportunity to unite ourselves to Christ on the cross.

We are invited to lay down our life in some manner in response to the great gift that is given for our salvation. As we enter into Lent this year, let’s take a moment to prayerfully choose a sacrifice that is centered around the intention of raising our minds and hearts toward the Father so that we might be sanctified.