Wednesday, February 3, 2016

In Defense of Chocolate

Or so they say...
Lent is just around the corner, which means blog posts galore will circle the internet telling you what you should give up for Lent. In recent years, I’ve also seen a number of posts and memes making the rounds that tell you what you should not give up for Lent—mainly, chocolate. While the intentions of these posts are usually innocent (writing that you should do something more spiritual for Lent instead), they do unintentionally rip on those of us who do choose to give up chocolate for Lent, usually making the broad assumption that giving up chocolate is a waste and does not relate to your relationship with God at all.

So, I am here today to convince you that they could not be more wrong. I am here today in defense of chocolate as a Lenten sacrifice.

First, I am of the opinion that we should not be judging the sacrifices of others. What may be a very difficult sacrifice for one person might be easy peasy for the next. But that doesn’t make the sacrifice any less for the person who finds it difficult. For example, giving up coffee for someone like me (who drinks coffee maybe three times a year) would not be a sacrifice, but for someone who has three cups a day, that is a huge sacrifice!

I have given up chocolate for Lent for the past few years, and while it is not the only sacrifice I make, it is certainly my most difficult. I have a not-so-secret love affair with chocolate. We are like peanut butter and jelly—we just go together. And so to willingly separate myself from something that I quite enjoy is not an easy feat! For someone who doesn’t have quite the level of love affair with chocolate as I do, giving up chocolate may not be a sacrifice, and that’s ok. But just because something may not be hard for one person does not mean we should belittle that it might be difficult for others.

Hello, my sweet.
Second, like many things in our lives, it is all about your intention. If you treat your sacrifice of chocolate like a new year’s resolution to help you lose weight or just as a way to break a pesky (but not overly harmful) habit, is your intention really getting at the heart of Lent? Probably not. But if you approach your sacrifice similar to how Christ fasted in the desert, such as to help you develop self-control and recognize that there are things that have a hold in your life that distract you from what really matters (that would be God), then it sounds like the intention behind your sacrifice is the exact purpose of Lent, no matter what that sacrifice may be.

Giving up chocolate in past years has really pushed me to grow in self-control, and this newfound self-control doesn’t just apply to whether or not to eat chocolate. It helps in all aspects of my life, and even leads to practicing more self-control with temptations to sin. Whether it is instigated by giving up chocolate or something else, developing self-control helps us grow in holiness. When I learned that I could say no to chocolate, I found that I could also say no a little bit more easily to things like gossip, or anger, or impatience. Along with this, I found myself having more freedom to say yes to the things that really matter: more prayer, learning about the saints, and putting my relationship with God first. Is chocolate the only roadblock on my path to holiness? Of course not. But if sacrificing chocolate helps me to overcome other obstacles, then the intention behind that sacrifice is exactly how we are supposed to approach Lent.

Finally, it also comes down to how you use it. A fast from something like chocolate (or coffee, TV, social media, etc.), no matter how minor, can be put to great use. As Catholics, I’m sure we are all familiar with the phrase “Offer it up!”, but how often to we actually put it into action? St. John Paul the Great, who experienced enormous suffering in his life, famously said that we should not waste our suffering.

The first couple of weeks of my chocolate fast are pretty rough. I find myself craving just a bite of smooth, milky chocolate multiple times a day. Whenever this happens, I try to offer up this craving for someone or something that could really use the prayers. Last year, I chose a different person or intention to offer it up for each day during Lent. Imagine how many prayers those intentions got just from my chocolate cravings alone! Now, will me giving up chocolate get a poor soul out of purgatory or send miraculous healing to a friend? Will my small bit of chocolate deprived suffering change the world? Probably not. But even the smallest offerings, when joined with Christ on the cross and given to God on behalf of others, can be used in the most mysterious ways.

In closing, I find chocolate to be a perfectly acceptable and worthy Lenten sacrifice, and I hope that many of you can now agree, so we can see an end to the posts that trivialize my favorite/not-so-favorite Lenten sacrifice. And with that, I rest my case. As members of the jury, feel free to chime in with your thoughts in the comments!

P.S. If you want to read another post where the writer agrees with me, check it out here.

This post originally appeared on Ignitum Today.

Friday, January 8, 2016

5 Spiritual New Year’s Resolutions

This post was originally published at Ignitum Today.

New Year’s resolutions usually seem to be focused on doing things to improve our physical health such as losing weight, eating healthier, or exercising more. While it is important to evaluate our physical health and work to make changes, we also shouldn’t forget about our spiritual health. If we put as much effort into improving our spiritual lives as we did in going to the gym or counting calories, our faith lives would be so much more fruitful! New Year’s is then also a great time to evaluate our spiritual health, and resolve to make changes to bring us closer to Christ in this coming year and beyond.

Here are five ideas for spiritual New Year’s resolutions you can make to help improve your faith life in this new year.

1. Find a Spiritual Director

Talking with a trusted and faith-filled confidante about your prayer is great for deepening your prayer life. You can make a resolution to meet with a spiritual director regularly, or just check in every once in awhile. While I prefer meeting with a priest (because he can also double as your confessor), you can also meet with a religious brother or sister, or even a layperson who has been trained in spiritual direction. If none of those options are available to you, even talking with a close friend who shares your faith can open up your prayer for you. It can be easy to get so bogged down in our own thoughts that we might miss something that God is very clearly saying to us. Spiritual direction can really help unpack all these thoughts to help lead us closer to God.

2. Add 5 more minutes of prayer to your day

If you want to become closer to another person, you spend more time with them. The same is true for God! If you want to build a deeper relationship with Him, talking to Him more will lead to that. A good place to start is to add just 5 more minutes of prayer to what you already do each day. Do you only pray for 5 minutes a day right now? Try to pray for 10 minutes. Do you do a holy hour every day? Try to do an hour and five minutes. This time adds up to an extra 35 minutes a week spent with God, and the benefits of adding this extra time far outweighs the time you give to Him.

3. Read a spiritual book

I love making reading resolutions at New Year’s, but I often forget to include a spiritual book on my list! There are so many options to choose from, including Scripture, writings by the saints, writings about the saints, and books on Catholic doctrine. Make a resolution to take the time and sit and read (and finish!) a spiritual book this year to help deepen your understanding of the faith.

4. Add one more spiritual activity to your monthly schedule

Life gets busy, and so it can be hard to make changes to your daily life. It can be easier though to add something new to your monthly schedule. This year, I’m making a resolution to go to daily Mass at least three times a month. I went to daily Mass every day when I was in graduate school, and so I know first-hand that words really cannot describe how much daily Mass and frequent reception of the Eucharist added to my faith life. Daily Mass may not be doable for you or in your town, so you can add another spiritual activity instead, such as spending a holy hour in Eucharistic Adoration, going to confession once a month, or even adding a volunteer service activity to your schedule to help celebrate the Year of Mercy.

5. Add a daily devotion

This one is especially good for people on the go, because you can read and reflect on your daily devotion on your commute or during your lunch break. I personally love reading the reflections in the Magnificat (although I need to get better about reading it every day), but there are a wealth of apps and e-mail devotions you can use too. There are 3-Minute Retreats from Loyola Press you can sign up for, you can have Blessed is She devotions waiting in your inbox each morning (specifically for women), or you can choose from a number of Catholic apps to use instead of playing on your phone at lunch (some great lists are here and here). It only takes a few minutes to read the daily readings and a short reflection, and it can make a huge difference to your day to just center yourself on God for a few extra minutes.

Did you make any spiritual New Year’s resolutions this year? Share your ideas in the comments!
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