Why does God care if you give up chocolate?

Rachel Sherlock

Why does God care if you give up chocolate?

It’s a question I get asked in some form at least a couple of times each Lent, from Christian and non-Christian friends alike.

While it’s a good question, I can’t help but find it a bit strange.

Restrictive food fads are the rage

From my perspective, our society is full of people denying themselves present pleasures in order to achieve greater goals.

Whether it’s trying to look good in a swimsuit or prevent climate change, diets aren’t exactly uncommon.

From vegetarian to vegan to the controversial ‘keto’ diet, restrictive food fads are the rage.

Yet there is something about curtailing comfort as part of your faith that strikes people as odd.

Perhaps it is explained by our culture moving further from formalised religion and more towards the solely ‘spiritual’.

With this tendency to see the experience of faith as something intangible, it becomes harder to understand how it could have anything to do with whether you have a glass of wine at dinner or a chocolate biscuit with tea.

Physical reality and faith are connected

The Catholic faith, however, does not see our physical reality as separate from our faith and our experience of God.

Simply put, we understand that what we do with our bodies can affect our souls.

Each day is filled with a host of decisions, desires, and impulses, many of which are in competition with and even contradict each other.

The many small decisions we make every day, the desires we decide to follow, and the impulses we choose to act on all contribute to moulding our character and even our soul.

Even on a practical level, obeying each of these small impulses can take up a huge amount of time as we search for that perfect feeling of ease and satisfaction.

More importantly, however, it can paper over the deeper questions and desires of our lives. Why confront the difficult questions of life if right now I can make myself comfortable?

Lent helps us wean

This is where Lent comes in. It’s a reminder to put things aside that normally give us comfort and that we perhaps rely on too much. By weaning ourselves off these things that we are inordinately attached to, the hope is to find ourselves more free. Free to pursue real meaning.

Throughout this struggle there is an almost constant call for comfort and distraction — food, drink, entertainment, you name it. Naturally, these things are not inherently bad, but if we only attempt to satisfy these surface-level desires and neglect our soul we will find ourselves wanting on a deeper level.

In 1979 Pope John Paul II said to a group of students in Washington D.C.:

Materialistic concerns and one-sided values are never sufficient to fill the heart and mind of a human person.

A life reduced to the sole dimension of possessions, of consumer goods, of temporal concerns will never let you discover and enjoy the full richness of your humanity.

It is only in God — in Jesus, God made man — that you will fully understand what you are.

Asceticism as a balancing power

So now the burning question is — how do we achieve this balance of body and spirit?

Unsurprisingly, the answer lies in a term that has largely fallen out of fashion: asceticism.

Typically defined as a very severe form of self-discipline, the word tends to conjure up images of starved-looking monks in desert hermitages.

However, asceticism does not always have to look so extreme; in fact, the origin of the word has a much more mundane meaning.

It comes from the Greek word askesis which refers to practice or training. The skill we are practising is self-mastery.

Fasting and abstinence

During Lent we carry out asceticism in two main ways, fasting and abstinence. Fasting is when we limit our quantity of food and abstinence is when we refrain from something specific, usually meat.

Out of all 365 days in the year, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are now the only* two official days of fasting and abstinence in the Catholic Church.

Additional, personally-applied asceticism is optional, but recommended.

Arguably, the Church doesn’t ask much of us by way of fasting and abstinence. She asks for small changes and hopes for big results. But the reality is that to maintain even small changes can be a real challenge.

Why am I doing this, again?

Almost as important as asceticism itself is to remember the meaning behind the practice.

While the sacrifices we make in fasting and abstinence should certainly challenge us, we must also have the humility to know that we will struggle and fail in small things.

Instead of having the pride of achieving an impressive level of asceticism, it is far more important to recognise our need for God’s grace and support in working towards even our modest goals.

Our fasting should remind us how we are not indeed self-sufficient and we rely on God to provide our daily needs just as much as we need Him to answer the deepest desires of our hearts.

By practising even small levels of asceticism this Lent — yes, even by giving up chocolate — we can become less prideful, build self-mastery, and better balance our bodily and spiritual needs, both of which are of vital importance — one for now, the other forever.

With this in mind, we bet you can take it a step further than chocolate …


  • Rachel Sherlock is a Catholic journalist, writer, and co-ordinator for Youth 2000 Ireland. First published in “Called to More
  • *There is also the weekly Friday Penance which in Ireland can be observed by any of the following means: abstaining from meat, other food, alcoholic drink, or smoking or by attending Mass, making special effort in family prayer, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, or making the Stations of the Cross.
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