"No" to me = "Yes" to Jesus; it's not just about denial and deprivation

>> Saturday, February 28, 2009

Does God want us to be miserable?
Is He some kind of killjoy?
What kind of God would limit my computer time?

I know some tweens and teens asking these questions about now.

With all the "no" of Lent, all the paring down like the desert, all the stripping away, it may seem like that, especially to children. How do we reconcile all this abstaining and fasting with the truth that God wants us to be filled with JOY?

That's not an easy concept, for any of us. And to keep difficult concepts simple and accessible and have something to quickly remind us of why we do what we do when our nature starts to kick at the goad and object to all our good resolutions, we need a simple formula that we can repeat.
The formula we use in this house is: "No" to me is "YES" to Jesus.

The austerities of the spiritual life have a point; it's not just about denial and deprivation. If suffering were an end in itself, it would be a very sick spirituality indeed, a distortion of the truth. There are many different analogies we can use to help children understand the point: we talk about "flexing our spiritual muscles" so that our wills become strong for good and not weak and lax so that we give in to every temptation; we talk about eliminating distractions so that our minds can find quiet to think about the more important things, without the theme song to Blue's Clues running through them or an eagerness for our turn on the computer disrupting that quiet; we talk about our solidarity with the poor, how we want to be like people we love and we should love them too, about how our using less would mean more equity in the world (though it doesn't immediately translate into that in the real world); we talk about how we want to be like Jesus, and He had nothing, not even "a place to lay His head," and how He gave us everything so that we would learn to give and not to take; we talk about how human beings have always given their best to God - their firstfruits, their most perfect lamb (we are studying ancient Rome, and we see even they give their best things to the gods and not save them for themselves) - and so we do to, only we don't have to build an altar and BURN what we want to give in sacrifice, we simply deny ourselves the use of that thing for now and "offer it up" as sacrifice.

Our entire lives can and should become oblation, and I often point to Pope John Paul the Great as an example of one who gave up all for Christ, and received so much. But he kept giving all, to the very end. He did not draw back when the going got tough.

We start small, we start now. We begin flexing those muscles and going without things we think we cannot go without during these 40 days. We begin to overcome our selfishness and prove that God is more important to us than our own wants by saying "no" to ourselves about something we want to do or use or eat. We sacrifice it to God that way. So, "no" to me is "yes" to Jesus.

But as everything we do has mixed motives, we can remind ourselves that there is a greater reward to come for all this "sacrificing." There is Heaven, in the long term - life with Jesus. But in the short term, there is a cadre of new and better habits formed, an increase of actual grace that brings us more self-control, more generosity, more peace, a stronger will, a deeper love. And hopefully, there is a better preparedness for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery.
To young minds, I present this tantalizingly as, "If you want to enjoy the FEAST, you really need to FAST."

Most days, it works.


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