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A Small Lent of Great LoveA Small Lent of Great Love

A Small Lent of Great Love

When taking on a Lenten sacrifice or practice, we ought first to consider our intentions, writes Trevor Anzai.

Trevor Anzai
4 minute read

Having a warm shower is something I can’t take for granted. There’s nothing like starting the day fresh and clean while singing some good tunes in the shower—Beyonce’s Halo, Sheeran’s Perfect, O God Beyond All Praising. People say I have a good voice. I tell them it’s from all the practice I’ve had during my warm showers.

I can’t imagine taking a cold shower first thing in the morning, when it is still very dark and –20 outside. My singing would turn into shrieking. My roommates would go crazy.

During  Lent, many Christians engage in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to grow their relationship with God by undergoing a small suffering to unite themselves to Jesus Christ’s passion and death on the cross. People fast from chocolate or Netflix, snacks or music, alcohol or meat. One year I fasted from cheese, which is one of my favourite foods. Another year I decided to skip out on Ottawa Senators’ hockey games on television (though I guess you could say it wasn’t that hard to miss out on a losing team).

One particular Lent, my friends decided they’d have only cold showers, and I wanted to be daring—and ridiculous—so I gave it a shot. I even started a week early. I wanted to prove something; that I could do something challenging. How silly to be spiritually zealous with lots of pride. And, well, it didn’t last long.

I work in a ministry that helps university students discover a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, with an emphasis on leadership development. It’s an exciting job where students’ lives are changed by God’s love. My work is made possible by supporters, who are also known as donors.

I have financial donors who support my ministry on a monthly basis so I can work full-time. I usually meet with them in-person once a year, and I speak to them about the great things happening on campus. And sometimes my supporters challenge me as we visit. One of my supporters corrected my attitude that time I took on cold showers and said, “God prefers a small sacrifice with great love than a great sacrifice with small love.” Ouch; but thank you for saying that. I was humbled.

I eventually got sick with bronchitis just a few days into Lent and went back to hot showers. So much for that.

Bronchitis turned out to be my Lenten sacrifice. I didn’t take on any other sacrifice or suffering found within a fast, more prayer, or greater acts of service for the 40 days. Hurting lungs, high fatigue, and a sore throat was more than enough for me. I was up to Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem before he begins his journey towards the Cross.
I managed to make it to church on Palm Sunday, mustering up all my energy to attend. At the end of mass, there was a basket alongside the palm branches with little notes that had scripture verses for everyone to take home. I wondered what scripture I would receive.

My note said, “For I will restore health to you and your wounds I will heal,” (Jeremiah 30:17). A  few days later, just in time for Easter, I recovered from bronchitis. And no, I did not go back to cold showers.

Our culture can sometimes be all about going big, or going home. Supersized meals, gigantic houses, and hefty contracts in professional sports. Crazy work hours, over-the-top parties, and excessive social media consumption. This kind of attitude has the danger of seeping its way into the spiritual life.

At present, some of my friends are participating in Exodus 90, an intense 90-day spiritual program for men that seeks to provide freedom through prayer, asceticism, and fraternity.

I think it can be a good program if carefully discerned with guidance from a spiritual director. It can be a very fruitful program to grow in virtue through a season of purging. However, I can see a temptation to undergo big sacrifices while our charity is lacking. We can do all things, but if we do not have love, we are nothing and we gain nothing.

St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

We must remember to look at the intention in our hearts. Is there pride within our practice of prayer, penance, and fasting? After all, I caught myself overzealously taking cold showers a week before Lent began.

The apostle Paul said, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

May we remember this Lent that if we do not have love, we gain nothing. We can have all the cold showers in the world, refrain from eating all the most sugary foods, and devoid ourselves from watching our favourite Netflix shows, but if we do not have love, we are noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

That could mean enjoying our hot showers and perhaps doing something a little less intense. So for my fellow brothers and sisters taking part in Lent this year, may we consider a small sacrifice with great love.

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