Monday, February 11, 2013

Catholic Peer Pressure and Lent

In the midst of sacrifice, the burden is made easier in solidarity. To know that someone else is suffering with the same things you do, to a certain extent, is comforting.

However, we have to remember that sacrifice is an individual calling.

I went to a Catholic college…well, I went to several Catholic schools: Ave Maria College (Ypsilanti, Michigan), Benedictine College (Atchison, Kansas), and Ave Maria University (Naples, Florida).

Each one of those schools was relatively small.  Because of the intimacy, you had a lot of friends and a lot of people to keep you accountable.  I discovered that I felt a lot of Catholic peer pressure when I was attending school.  There was daily mass, prayer, adoration, and many other really great opportunities for spiritual nourishment.  I found it difficult, however, to keep up with everyone else.  I found myself constantly comparing my faith habits to others around me.  Instead of wanting to go to daily mass, I was going to daily mass because everyone else was doing it.

When it came to Lent, I succumbed to the typical giving up of desserts, coffee, television, and the usual.  Even though we tried to keep our sacrifices between us and the Lord, we would often discuss our Lenten rituals and compare and contrast.  Each year, our endeavors became more and more intense.  One year, some friends and I decided to live only on bread and water.  We thought we were encouraging each other to achieve holiness.  In reality, we were only threatening each other with not being holy enough to call yourself “Catholic”.

Since Lent starts this Wednesday, I am feeling the old twing of guilt.  I feel like I will not have a good Lent if I don't fast and abstain from sugar, desserts, snacks, etc.

Sure, it can be a huge sacrifice to go without those simple pleasures.  But, I don’t think everyone is called to do it.  Because I struggle with an eating disorder, I need to really be careful about going down that path.

If you don’t give up certain things for Lent, you are not less holy or less of a good Catholic.  If your sacrifices are different than someone else’s, so what.  Your personal sacrifices are still important, especially if you've spent time discerning it in prayer.

Sacrifice is an individual calling and it is different for each person.  The Catholic faith is a personal faith.  We have a personal God.  We can know Jesus and have a personal relationship with Him.

Honestly ask Our Lord and pray about what to do for Lent this year.  You might be called to sacrifice in different ways than you have done in the past.

If you can’t think of anything else besides giving up desserts, here are some fresh ideas: sacrifice women’s magazines, celebrity gossip articles and web pages, reality TV shows, looking in the mirror frequently, make-up, your pillow, Facebook, body-bashing, or negative self-talk.

For Lent this year, I am not giving up sugar or dessert or any kind of food whatsoever.  Because I have an eating disorder history, those sacrifices would harm rather than help me.  The fruits of sacrifice should help you become a better person and help your relationship with God.  For me, giving up sugar does not help me get closer to God.  It makes me concerned about my weight and my appearance.  I end up being too focused on diet and less focused on prayer.  Learning from experience, I have discovered that giving up a certain food item leads me away from God.

Everyone gives up desserts for Lent.  It’s an easy route, if you think about it.  It’s easy because everyone else is doing it too.  You don’t have to give up desserts or sugar or whatever just because all the other Catholics are doing it. Catholic peer pressure, how shocking!  In our culture today, wouldn’t it be more of a sacrifice to eat your dessert?

St. Therese, the Little Flower, wanted to sacrifice dessert while in the convent but her Mother Superior would not approve her request.  She ordered Therese to eat what she was served.  Therese discovered the key element in sacrifice through that experience.  The key element of sacrifice is obedience.  Obeying the will of our superiors and obeying the will of God is the real sacrifice.  It is not a sacrifice to do something we want to do.

Very rarely do we have a choice when it comes to sacrifice.

Lent is one of those circumstances.  But we still have to pray for the guidance to know what to do.

Before Lent starts this year (February 13th), honestly pray about it.  Sit in silence and honestly pray.  Are you going to sacrifice something just because everyone else is doing it?  Are you going to give up something because you will feel less holy or less worthy if you don’t?  Ask God to help you figure out what would be a good way for you to sacrifice.  I guarantee you will have a more nourishing Lent this year.


  1. Mary,
    I love your post! You are so right, especially about that incredibly difficult virtue: obedience. That's my biggest struggle, and a much smarter Lenten sacrifice than something like chocolate.

    All my best to you!

    1. I just saw your comment, Meghan! Thank you for the response. Hope you had a prayerful lent this year. All my best to you, as well!