Finding Happiness in Lent

Why on earth should I give up chocolate for Lent?  Why don't we eat meat on Fridays?  Why would God want me to give something up in order to follow Christ?

Those are reasonable questions and, if all we have are the external rules and traditions of our religion without any of the spirituality behind them, then some of our Lenten practices can easily seem old-fashioned, silly, or pointless.  When we look a little deeper, though, we find that our Lenten practices have a rich and profound connection to our own happiness and fulfillment.

The great spiritual master, St. Ignatius of Loyola, begins his spirituality with what he calls the "First Principle and Foundation".  It is essentially this--we were made to serve, love, and be with our God, so in life we seek to embrace things that help us to do that and get rid of things which get in the way.  This requires us to cultivate a certain indifference to the things of the world, so that we don't really care whether was are rich or poor, healthy or sick, popular or unpopular, whether we live a long life or a short life.  The one and only thing we care about is living a life that leads us towards God and, as St. Paul says, we learn to be content with whatever situation we are placed in and find God wherever we are.

This is, to a large extent, the project we all undertake during Lent.  We give up little things not necessarily because they are bad, but so that we train ourselves not to care so much about the extraneous parts of our life and care more about the purpose for which we were created.  We give up so that we learn to stop seeking happiness in things that will never give us true happiness--things like wealth, health, or popularity--and turn our attention towards that which will bring us lasting joy.  We open our hands, letting go of the things we cling to, so that they may be open to receive true blessing from God.

Don't be afraid to let go this Lent, to set aside things that often distract us, and focus on what really matters--serving, loving, and being with God no matter what your situation in life.