Lent starts today.
That means there are no more days to really think about what we plan on doing for the next 40 days (minus the Sundays, because that’s how we do it where I’m from) to prepare our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies for the holiest feast of the entire year.
And I want to mention one thing: if you plan on giving something up, don’t give up a sin.
You heard me: don’t give up a sin.
See, here’s the thing about making a sacrifice (for Lent or any other time of the year): It’s not really a sacrifice to give up something you aren’t supposed to have or do in the first place. For instance, an unmarried man can’t “give up” sex for Lent because he’s not supposed to be having sex in the first place. That isn’t a sacrifice. That’s turning away from sin. These two things are different. Can making sacrifices strengthen us in holiness, thereby making it easier to turn away from sin? Absolutely. But does giving up a sin we hold dear cause us to suffer, willingly, immediately or in the long run? Not really. Giving up a sin helps us from the moment we give it up, even if it feels to our disordered minds and bodies that we are pain, because it helps us get to heaven.
The way I’ve always seen the idea of making a sacrifice is that we are supposed to be giving up something we enjoy and something we are allowed to have or to do. To make a sacrifice, we attempt to make our lives less pleasant (mildly or extremely) in order to unite our suffering with that of Christ, and in some small way lessen it. Giving up coffee, TV viewing, music, candy, or free time are good examples of a sacrifice for most people because, on their own, none of them are sinful acts or objects. It’s not a sacrifice to say that I will no longer commit a sin regularly, because I shouldn’t be committing a sin once, let alone every day. If I were a thief, and I said I was going to stop stealing for Lent, I’d be laughed at, and rightly so. And yet, many of us have fallen into the trap of believing that we can give up our favorite sins, and if we say we are doing so for Lent, then we can go right back to them at Easter. Not so.
The simple fact is that we should be constantly turning away from sin, no matter the time or the season. We commit ourselves to abandon our sins at every Mass, during every penitential rite, and again every time we receive the sacrament of Confession. More than that, we should be constantly making sacrifices to atone for those sins and the sins of all mankind. If you want to give up a bad habit or a sinful one, by all means do so, but know that it’s not really a sacrifice so much as it is a life changing commitment to “go and sin no more.”