We often dilute our Lenten sacrifices, cheapening them from spiritually motivated self-denial to a retread of New Years’ resolutions, which usually fizzle by the time Lent rolls around. Domers are especially guilty of this, as we often wear our sacrifices on our sleeves. Bob Kessler ’09, author of ThingsNotreDameStudentsLike.com and a book of the same title, wrote, “While Notre Dame Students might give many reasons for making sacrifices during Lent, deep down they all know that the things they give up for Lent are meant as a way to show other people how Catholic they are and how much more religious they are than the typical student. All Notre Dame Students want to be the most Catholic student, and Lenten sacrifice is just another way to accomplish this objective.”
I couldn’t help but feel a bit incriminated when I first read this. Not only had I seen this phenomenon but I also felt traces of it in myself. Do we make Lenten sacrifices to fulfill an empty religious obligation? To impress friends? To feel a vain sense of accomplishment? I questioned my own intentions and wondered, “Should our Lenten sacrifices be reduced to fodder for small-talk?”
We should be seeking deeper solidarity with Christ, and to help us do that, we must embrace Christian community and fellowship by humbly sharing our journey with God and with our brothers and sisters. Conversations with friends can help us better engage the challenges of sacrifice. Those exchanges should seek deeper understanding of the struggle, but as share, we have to resist temptations to boast or compare. We must share openly with others while also guarding against temptations to announce our righteousness from the rooftops.
Last year, while volunteering with the House of Brigid in Ireland, I attended the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin. The theme of this international gathering of Catholics was “The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with One Another.” Ultimately, our baptism calls us to be part of Someone and Something bigger than ourselves — Jesus Christ and His Church. True communion is intimacy with both God and with each other.
When we say “Amen” to the Eucharist, we affirm two things at once: We believe that the Body of Christ is Jesus Christ before us in transformed bread and wine and we believe the Body of Christ is our brothers and sisters joined with us in celebrating the sacrifice of the Mass. So whether our sacrifice is something mundane, like giving up Starbucks, or a deeper life-change, like no longer using sarcasm, we should walk the journey in solidarity with both Christ and with one another.
At Ash Wednesday Mass in the Basilica my senior year, my girlfriend and I were enlisted to bring up the gifts. I love to be involved in the Mass and quickly agreed. I picked up the sturdy wooden tray of gold ciboria filled with hosts, and Katherine took the pitcher of wine. As we returned to our pew, the profundity of offering the bread and wine for the Eucharistic sacrifice on this specific occasion began to hit me. When we sat back down, I said to her, “I can’t explain to you how cool it was that we brought up the gifts on Ash Wednesday.”
In the Mass, after the presentation of gifts, the priest invites us to join with him in the Eucharistic prayer: He says, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.” Just as the priest invites the Holy Spirit to change ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, we must offer ourselves on the altar alongside those gifts. The lay people who serve as gift-bearers offer the bread and wine for the Eucharist as a visible sign of the invisible reality that we, as the people of Christ, are joining ourselves to Him in the sacrifice of the Mass. Gift-bearers sacramentally symbolize our offer of ourselves as a hopeful prayer that we may become what and Who we receive.
This Lent, let’s embrace the call to sacrifice in humility with Christ. May the temptations amid our sacrifices bring us to deeper intimacy with God’s ultimate sacrifice so that we may know forgiveness through intimacy with Christ. Let’s offer ourselves fully as we journey toward the glory of the Resurrection, in solidarity with one another and with Christ.
Dan Masterton majored in theology, lived in Zahm House and graduated cum laude from Notre Dame in May 2011. He currently is a theology teacher, campus minister and baseball and basketball coach at Xavier College Prep in Palm Desert, CA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.