Lent is now upon us and it will soon be time for fasting and abstaining from meat. Why do we do these things and why is it necessary to fast in our spiritual life?
A few days ago I was in line for confession and ended up staring at and thinking about the cross on the altar. It came to me that I was there waiting for the sacrament of reconciliation because of that cross. The fact that I believe that He died for me on the cross – that is the reason that I place my whole life at the foot of that cross. Because of that cross I have forgiveness and it is the reason that I seek His mercy and His light each time I return to confess my sins.
Jesus had no sin and He had no necessity for repentance, yet he took 40 days to be in the desert, praying and fasting in preparation for his ministry. Then why wouldn’t we who are sinners, need to fast?
Our Beloved came and He became flesh. We have been saved. The passion and resurrection of Christ is the basis of who we are and how we live our lives. We should always be focused on this as Christians, but we have a great opportunity this season to remember this and to regain strength in our spiritual journey. The liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church is a beautiful gift. During each season, we have the opportunity to reflect and direct our focus on the life of Christ. It is like a living journey of the Gospel.
Jesus said when He was tempted in the desert, “It is written: One does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4
Food is good and yes we need it to survive, but it is a constant focus in our lives. “What are we going to eat today?” we ask. “What is for dinner?” “I’m hungry!” We see something tasty and we cannot resist. The body certainly has a way of dominating us. Fasting is a way of taking that focus and directing it to God. Fasting, when done with the heart and with the intention of penance or prayer, helps our soul be elevated to God. When we eliminate the priority of feasting all the time, we can direct our minds and hearts to loving God.
Fasting also helps us have a greater appreciation for food that we have. There is more temperance and self-restraint. It is a discipline for the body that we are in need of and it is necessary. In many parts of the bible in our story from Moses to Paul, significant events happened after someone or a people fasted. Let us expect amazing things to happen in our souls and in our lives as children of God in our fasting!
The church asks us to fast (have only two small meals, no snacks, and a moderate meal) and to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. But there are many different ways we can fast. We can fast from a favorite food or from something here and there which we crave or which is an excess in our life. We can offer it in prayer, be thankful for what we have, and teach the body that our soul has much higher priorities – a union with Christ and a life beyond what is in this world.
That is why we should try to not return to uncontrollable excessiveness when Easter comes. Yes, it will be a time to enjoy the feast, but with temperance. We should come out of Lent converted in some manner so that we may continue along in our mission to live our lives closer to Christ each day.
We start Lent with ashes and by hearing the words, “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” But when we celebrate Holy Week at the end of Lent, we remember that that is not the end. We renew our Baptismal promises and we proclaim the “Alleluia” with fervor and firmness at Easter because that is our joy and our greatest hope.
We celebrate holidays such as the independence day of our country. Why? Because we remember that we were freed from a country or an unjust reign. Our country is our pride and we have freedom! For that very same reason we have Lent, to walk with the Word of God, with Jesus Christ himself up to the glorious celebration of the Resurrection. The Kingdom of God is our reason and we have been freed from sin because of the battle that was won on the cross on one Good Friday afternoon. This is a grand motive to participate in Lent with intention. Reflect on how much our Savior loves us. He awaits for us, there in a quiet place, away from the world, to love us even more deeply.