Life as I know it… plus commentary

The myth of Lenten sacrifice

with 12 comments

As I’m sure most of you know, it’s the Lenten period. Many of my friends are giving up various favorites as a manner of sacrifice. The most common is sweets. My friend Jonathan (who is staying with me a few weeks) extends that from baked goods to include caramel lattes, maple syrup and sweet glazes.

It’s an interesting concept really. Is God really honored by the fact that someone is foregoing something that makes them feel good? I’d say no. At breakfast this morning, I listened to Jonathan purposefully not order a stack of pancakes and instead, get a spinach and feta omelet. We sat around a little wile after eating and I had a slice of toast with jam. Without thinking, he spread jam on a slice of toast and put it to his mouth. I stared at the jam a moment, enough to cause him to wonder what I was looking at. I said “nothing” and watched him eat the jam. Later at coffee, he ordered a plain latte and I asked “No caramel?” and he said “Nope. No sugar.” and I said “like jam?” I could see the realization overtake him slowly.

We then had a talk about what Lenten sacrifice really meant. I said the sacrifice was pretty meaningless. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that giving up something for Lent is a complete waste of time. At least as far as the sacrifice itself. Think about it… the Bible says no one is without sin and yet we’re to strive to live without sin. See a contradiction? I don’t, I think what this system is saying is that the striving itself has more value than the end result. To strive to be sinless is actually of greater to God than to actually be sinless (I know this is kind of a weird analogy in the fact that no wholly human person can ever be sinless).

So eating a piece of bread with jam on it isn’t really a failure of your Lenten vow when there was no intent to cheat. More than anything else the vow is more an exercise to force us to examine our motives and motivations… to cause us to be more self examining and help us to grow spiritually. So stay on your vow of no cookies… but don’t despair if the taste of sugar passes your lips a couple of times in the 40 days.


Written by arnold

February 18, 2008 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Religion

12 Responses

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  1. I can’t tell you how ungratifying it is to read a post of yours and at the end of it agree with what you’re saying. I think you did that to me one other time too. I really thought I knew where you were going with this one — I was going to desparage your Catholic background and everything…in the nature of good, Christian brotherhood, of course.


    All I can do now is hope that your next post will be something else about how you “literally” stood in line for coffee for 20 minutes (the equivalent of an entire episode of Friends without commercials).

    The Kyle

    February 18, 2008 at 6:48 pm

  2. Dude, I heard you had spoken intelligent words on here so I came to see:) I agree with what you have to say brother:) Very wise!


    February 20, 2008 at 2:50 pm

  3. sinners


    February 23, 2008 at 11:59 am

  4. that was just a joke in case you wondering if I was really being serious which I highly doubt is the case. Arnold, this is good. I had a similar experience recently with someone, and although I have given up soda (for the better I might ad), i had one, but have not had the urge to have one since. In a strange soda analogy, it seems as though the act of “striving” to be soda free has actually caused me to want it less, its lost most of its goodness to me.

    Also, I was watching V for Vendetta (pretty sweet movie) and he speaks a great quote on coincidence:

    “There is no coincidence, only the illusion of coincidence”

    Now thats bloggable


    February 23, 2008 at 12:05 pm

  5. With such a strong statement regarding sacrifice, or fasting, I’m sure you won’t mind a brief question, then. Why, on earth (quite literally), would Jesus fast for forty days and forty nights? And why would he answer the tempter as he does?

    Or was this post just to see if I was still alive? (I am. Barely.)


    February 23, 2008 at 2:06 pm

  6. Ah. There you are. My Curtis bait worked… and it’s nice to hear from you!

    I have a knee jerk reaction when someone talks about Jesus’ actions as a model for our own. I prefer “WHat would Jesus have me do” over “What would Jesus do”.

    That being said, this post was more about people feeling like their fast was somehow invalidated because they gave in once or twice. I was not saying that fasting itself was a waste of time.

    Now, that being said… how do we get you from Barely to Enjoying Living?


    February 23, 2008 at 6:08 pm

  7. I hate to nitpick with such a lovely article, but one “wholly human” person was sinless. “Fully human, fully divine”–isn’t that what the theologians say?

    So I’m going to assume you meant something like “merely human.” Though I do know what assuming gets me…

    Peggy C

    February 26, 2008 at 2:40 am

  8. I suppose it’s a matter of perspective. Your position is correct. I had meant it as “wholly human and nothing else”.


    February 26, 2008 at 9:16 am

  9. Wow. You almost saved it in the end. I’m with Kyle. I was going to blast you until your final two sentences.

    Still, earlier in the post you said, “In fact, I’d go so far as to say that giving up something for Lent is a complete waste of time.”

    You acknowledge that fasting causes us “to be more self examining and help us to grow spiritually.” Is this something you want to avoid? Why be so critical of self-examination and spiritual growth? I DO think your (anti)Catholic roots are showing.

    I think in our consumer culture we all NEED to fast and to DO IT NOW before we all become (if we haven’t already) simply pawns of the food and fun companies that market to us to keep our money recycling through the system.

    Fasting DOES please God insomuch as it DOES cause us to reexamine our motives and recalibrate our desires toward things that are more godly. You are right, a little slip up now and then is no cause for Purgatory. Still, what good is a fast if no one sticks to it?


    February 28, 2008 at 12:36 am

  10. You can’t stop reading. The post says “In fact, I’d go so far as to say that giving up something for Lent is a complete waste of time. At least as far as the sacrifice itself. ”

    If it hasn’t been made clear yet, I’ll say it again….. I think fasting is a worthy discipline. The fact that you went without eating a cookie for 40 days or not watching Lost or what ever you chose is inconsequential… that thing you gave up was not as important as the exercise of fasting itself.


    March 1, 2008 at 8:58 pm

  11. I, too, gave up sweets for lent. Just before lent, CVS had a sale on hershey’s kisses…buy one get another free….i bought 2 bags, got 2 bags free. These four bags of kisses are sitting in my pantry. Everyday I open the pantry and am tempted to have “just one”…I remember that Jesus sacrificed His life for me….I can sacrifice that piece of candy for 40 days. Haven’t had a piece since Ash Wednesday….now I don’t even miss it.


    March 8, 2008 at 11:15 pm

  12. I agree that giving up something, (sweet or sour), for the sake of giving it up, is rather meaningless. Sacrifice becomes relevant when it is associated with a purposeful reason. I think you might like my current post “On Joy”, which is focused on Lent and Lenten sacrifice. My blog site is . If you go, I would be interested in your comment, pro or con. Happy Lent.


    February 27, 2010 at 1:30 pm

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