Lent and the Theology of Asceticism

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

“What are you giving up for Lent?”

Most Christians who have spent any time in a church that observes the Liturgical Calendar have probably had that question asked of them. The idea itself is not a difficult one, at least not as difficult as the actual faithful compliance to it. In the simplest of terms the Christian carefully reflects on their life, picking something that brings them pleasure and enjoyment but that is not necessarily spiritually fulfilling. For the period then that marks the beginning of Lent until Easter Sunday they give up that one thing, and in doing so, use that time to focus on their faith, on the pious acts and thoughts of devotion that will lead to their own growth.

So popular is the concept of Asceticism Theology during this time of the year that even the faithful who couldn’t name another Feast Day, Festival, Fast or Observance on the Church Calendar are, at the very least, vaguely familiar with the concept. Some even go as far as to partake in those acts of abstinence and self–denial that mark that ceremonial sacrifice.

In and of itself Lent is a perfect example of how the disciple of Christ can strive, as commanded by Scripture, to live by the example of our blessed Savior Himself. (1 Corinthians 11:1) After all, each step in the life of that perfect Son of God was marked by sacrifice, from the humble birth that marked His entrance into this world, (2 Corinthians 8:9) to the forty days in the desert fasting and praying before beginning His ministry, (Luke 4:1-13) to the very act on the cross that surrendered His life for ours. (Mark 15:21-41) Yet, in this Lenten tradition, do we miss something of the true nature of sacrifice and spiritual growth?

You see, if we generally accept that something isn’t spiritually fulfilling, if we generally accept that something doesn’t offer to us the spiritual growth we need in order to become the disciple that we should be, that we believe that we can be, to the point where we believe it is beneficial to us to give it up for a period of time, is it beneficial for us to take it back up after Easter Sunday? Given to Christ, we must constantly consider the nature of what it means to be a true follower of Him. In this our lives must be given to careful examination as to what we do and who we are, realizing ‘”Everything is permissible” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible” but not everything is constructive. “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)

Perhaps, at Lent, one may give up television to focus themselves on Scriptural Study during the time they might otherwise be watching it, perhaps someone may give up their Saturdays to volunteer somewhere and meet a need that is there. Yet if this is important to do, if we believe that these sacrifices mark something significant for our growth, then why limit it to a short period of time rather than taking it back up again? It might be that during our Lenten observation we abstain from candy or junk food and soda. What if, instead of going back to the candy bar or the potato chips after Easter, every time you crave that snack fix you put the money you would have spent on it in a jar and later donate it to a charity or to someone in need?

There are any number of things that the disciple, in their lives, can point to and pick out knowing that it perhaps does not have a spiritual application and that sacrificing it will do them good. It doesn’t mean they have to give up everything in their lives that gives them enjoyment and pleasure. Still, if it is something worth sacrificing for a short time in order to better yourself, if it something you can sacrifice in order to edify and uplift others in love and hope, setting an example with your life for others, then why limit yourself to only giving it up for a short time?

In faith the life of a disciple should be one given to self-examination, reflection and sacrifice. This is not just a Lent Theology or one that should be marked on our calendars with a countdown as to when we can stop depriving ourselves. It is a way of life meant to focus our hearts and our soul so we can be better people, guided by hope and love in the examples of our blessed Savior.

Study your life, examine yourself for what is in your life that you can give up, and if you already have, don’t just run down the clock. Make a commitment to yourself, to your faith and to God, and let your life be a testimony to the nature of our Savior. Give up so you can give of yourself, and let this be a daily witness to the love that you have and the love that guides you.