Maybe we could summarize our first reading at today’s Mass this way: Fast first from sin.
Hunger does not please God in and of itself. Hunger for justice pleases God, and bodily hunger offered justly pleases Him.
If we hunger for truth, then we will worry more about treating people right than we will about giving up chocolate. Giving up chocolate can please God well—provided I do the penance cheerfully and with greater love for my neighbor.
Some people try to give up coffee for Lent, and they wind up holier and healthier for it. Some people try giving up coffee, and by 9:00 a.m. on the first day, everyone within thirty paces wishes they hadn’t.
We have to strive for a higher life, so our Lent must include some bodily mortification. The more we deny our cravings for physical things, the more we learn to crave spiritual ones. But the greatest Lent a person can keep would actually be more simple: uninterrupted kindness, patience, and ready generosity, without a single thought given to what I will eat or drink and when.
The Lord gave us Lent to help us learn how to forget ourselves and focus on God and others. It would be a shame to waste this gift with nonstop fretting about “When will I finally get to have what I gave up?!” Better to give up giving things up than to have a Lent that is more about chocolate than it is about God and other people.