How about Good Ole’ Fashioned Fasting?
Lent is approaching, and unfortunately we are all going to see an avalanche of articles, posts, and homilies that go something like this:
“Instead of giving up chocolate, alcohol, or (insert other item here), give up some of the following bad behaviors that you should probably avoid during the rest of the year as well.”
As well intentioned as these articles may be, there are a few problems with them. For starters, if I could simply choose to eliminate the negative traits about myself that keep me from being a saint, don’t you think I would have done it by now? Our transformation in Christ is not as simple as us waking up one day and saying, “You know, I am going to stop doing the following today.”
Most of us recognize the bad things we want to stop doing, but we are struggling in how to stop doing them.
Yes, there is conversion and there is definitive choice to live for Christ, but the true work of interior harmony and spiritual growth is a work of grace. While we must be committed to spiritual discipline and the regular practice of the sacraments, we also have to recognize that to overcome the deep roots of sin, we have to give time to the Holy Spirit to illuminate our hearts.
That is why we give ourselves extra time to pray during Lent. To make room for that possibility.
Second, a major obstacle to the working of grace in our life is that our will is weakened and corrupted by the effects of sin. Confession restores us to friendship with Christ, but fasting and penance allows for the will to undergo the healing it needs to rise above temptation.
Fasting, penance, and training for holiness strengthens the will in ways similar to how training helps athletes and soldiers. That is why St. Paul and many spiritual writers draw upon such examples to explain spiritual discipline.
To be clear, you need to fast and you need to fast more than on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Those two days are the bare minimum… but don’t we all recognize that the bare minimum is never the path to excellence.
As I keep drilling into my kids in faith formation, just because you follow the rules doesn’t mean you get an A.
Excellence requires more than that, both on the natural and supernatural level.
That being said, our spiritual discipline must lead us to extend ourselves for the sake of the mission. Through almsgiving and our commitment to the poor, we are moved by the Holy Spirit out into the world because true spiritual fruitfulness grows and spreads.
It is like a fire that cannot be contained, and that is why we pray and why we fast…
To be consumed by divine love.