If you reflect on the lives of the saints, one of the first things you might notice is that they weren’t comfortable. They embraced the cross and the hardships that came with it. Taming the flesh so as to better follow Christ is a countercultural, revolutionary effort in 2018, but then again, it’s always been a way to swim against the tide.
From the excesses of the Roman Empire to the hedonism of nations and kingdoms ever since, the human tendency is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The saints knew better, and if we’re wise and take our faith seriously, we’ll heed the call to abstinence, fasting, almsgiving and prayer the Church issues each Lent.
During these 40 days we resolve to turn from sin, embrace the cross and love God and others better. If you’ve ever embarked on the journey, you know the sweetness of surrendering to the cross: What the world sees as folly, the Christian counts as joy. In giving up, we gain.
Ramsey Echeverria is well-acquainted with this mystery. He’s in formation to become a deacon and told me he learned about self-mastery when he studied at the Kino Catechetical Institute.
“It’s about dying to yourself,” Echeverria told me. In his own life, he lives that out by embracing little sacrifices along the daily path of his life.
“During Lent, I try to step up my game,” Echeverria said. “I’ve been concentrating on suffering — not looking for things to suffer, but I have been reading books on the saints and they go out of their way to do without comforts.”
The truth is that sacrifice scares most of us. But it doesn’t have to be scary or extreme. In 2018, self-mastery could mean “doing without your TV or your phone,” Echeverria said. “I’m trying to go without TV as much as possible and concentrate on prayer and spiritual reading.” These Lenten disciplines strengthen our resolve to fight temptation and grow in holiness.
You might want to consider one more way to leave your comfort zone. “Maybe sleep on the couch or the floor,” Echeverria said. “I know it sounds crazy, but it helps us to remember and think about other people, to thank God every day for the basic things we take for granted like a home, food and work.”
Echeverria recommended starting with the little things so as not to become overwhelmed. “Maybe sleep without a pillow. Try separating yourself from the secular world, the news and gossip. Pick a saint and study him or her during Lent.”
Pope St. John Paul II, one of the greatest saints of modern times, certainly lived a life of penance and self-mortification, sleeping on the floor and rumpling his bed so as to appear as though he had slept in it. He once wrote that “The ethos of redemption is realized in self-mastery, by means of temperance, that is, continence of desires.”
The world calls us to comfort and self-indulgence. Lent calls us to take up our cross and seek to follow in the footsteps of Christ who humbled Himself and laid down His life for our sins. In turning away from creature comforts, we make room in our hearts for God and we make room for loving our brothers and sisters. After a night or two of sleeping on a hard floor or going to bed hungry, you look at your own life and the world a bit differently. Your heart softens and you want to love people more.
Sacrifice is never comfortable, but it is the road to sanctity. Let us “bear our share of hardship for the Gospel,” as St. Paul recommends, and not give in to fear of suffering. Let us walk, hand in hand, with Jesus who points the way to freedom, joy, love and eternal life.