Many of us give up something as part of a Lenten fast. Fasting helps us in our almsgiving in having more to give away to others, serves as a penitential offer for past wrongdoing, and unites us in solidarity to those who are hungry. Fasting is good, especially if we keep in mind it is a means and not an end in itself. But as we move through these days and weeks of Lent, we are called to give even more deeply: to give up aspects of our lives and even our selves to God.
Ignatius famously hung up his sword and dagger at Montserrat, near the altar of the blessed Virgin; soon afterwards, he gave away his clothes to a beggar. Ignatius’s autobiographical account has both serious and self-aware comedic tones at points. On the one hand, his sacrifices arise from a sincere heart. On the other hand, they are highly romantic. Although Ignatius lived a century before Cervantes wrote Don Quixote, one cannot help but notice certain parallels. In the autobiography, we see a knight so eager to give away his clothes that he nearly gets a poor beggar arrested. We see a man who considers whether or not to chase after a Moor on the basis of which path his donkey walks and who for a time refuses to cut his hair or his fingernails for the greater glory of God. Ignatius was perfectly willing to poke a little fun at himself and his youthful ardor. However, what becomes clear is that it is the everyday sacrifices of his life that matter more: enduring others’ opinions of him as a fool or heretic, having to send his friend Francis Xavier to the East for the sake of mission, or spending his last years working as a paper-pushing administrator so that the Society of Jesus could thrive as an organization.
In Lent, we are being asked to consider where we have not yet surrendered our lives to God, not so much by way of great, romantic gestures, but rather in concrete and practical ways. For example:
- Do I seek to make my family’s everyday life happier rather than putting my own desires first?
- Can I make do without some material goods, so that I can share with others who lack even the basics?
- Can I stop dwelling on past hurts so that I can give generously here and now?
- Do I listen when I want to speak and make room for others’ voices and dissenting opinions?
- Am I willing to let teenage or adult children, friends, or my spouse grow in new directions, even when that means certain kinds of losses for myself?
- Am I able to let go of any desire that exists to prop up my own sense of self, and trust that there is a deeper self beneath whose joy lies in self-gift?