One of the greatest challenges to our faith and living a spiritual life is all the “rules and practices” we are committed to. This is perhaps part of the reason that many people reject certain aspects of our faith, and our readings today call to mind – fasting. On Ash Wednesday, I made mention of freedom and when we are called upon to “step out of our comfort zone” we can often see this as an impingement upon our right to choose and on our freedom. But if we were to put the aim of our spiritual life and of our faith into perspective, I would say that these rules and practices aid us in finding balance. That is one of the difficulties in the world we live in today because this is not necessarily something that we easily find. Think about the Lenten sacrifice that many of us offer. Usually we avoid something or add something to our life that we recognize has consumed us [the classic is chocolate, which we’ve probably noted at one time or another we’ve eaten too much of] or something that has been lacking [we recognized that we haven’t prayed enough, so we add that in]. Even if our practice is just to sacrifice in honour of our Saviour, we still recognize something that we are not always mindful of in our faith lives – and that’s a good thing (only if we aim to correct it)! It still is (whether we call it such) a movement towards a more balanced existence. And we need that. It may feel rough when we try to find that balance, but once we are there it feels great to be living a healthy, balanced life.
Fasting is a part of that. Of course, we fast with meaning and purpose; which is the way we want to live our lives. For us as Catholics, we fast because we know and acknowledge day by day during Lent the great sacrifices and sufferings our Lord Himself underwent for a fallen humanity of which we are a part of. We are not meant to equal or even come close to His Divine & Heroic Sacrifice, but we are meant to make some effort to configure our life to His, a life that was about joy, love, sharing as much as it was about sacrifice and suffering. Fasting is not meant to make us gloomy or melancholy and there is an unfortunate and inaccurate image of the Catholic Christian suffering or gloomy which is simply not true. This is fasting misunderstood. When we struggle in the moment, are conscious in the moment of temptation to break the fast, it is our Lord whom we turn our mind to and in strength resist the temptation. Fasting is meant to make us stronger, not weaker.
And as I think of the virtue of fasting, I think of how valuable and important fasting is to a vocation, especially a vocation to priesthood. I spent seven years in seminary formation, and what I can assure you is the man who went in is not altogether the same man who left there. Essentially I was of course the same man, but much of my life had changed – and it continues to. We should desire the change that fasting and spiritual practices offer us. As Christians, we are on a road to self-discovery; and when we fast we are self-aware, which is not enough. We have to marry self-awareness with the Lord, that is turning to Him in our emptiness and continue to allow Him to fill us with His grace. That goes for our daily spiritual practice which deliberately includes fasting especially during Lent, but day by day as well.
This self-awareness that we grow in daily will lead us to the discovery of our vocation if we are patient. Men do not enter the seminary, knowing with absolute certainty that they are meant to be priests, even if they have a strong feeling and draw. They must come to know first the Lord, then His priesthood but seeking and finding himself, to discover who he is as a man before God. Fasting is a part of it. Feasting takes place when we come to know and love God and begin to become aware that He will use us as a powerful instrument of His grace if we let Him.
Fasting allows us to encounter the Lord in our emptiness, the emptiness we share with Him because as I mentioned in my Ash Wednesday reflection – there is no cross without Christ. There is no vocation without the Cross; that is, the challenges, the sufferings, the struggles that make it complete and true.
As we reflect today on this Friday after Ash Wednesday, may we recognize that we the disciples of Christ who give thanks for all that we have received, fast now because we recognize the need to draw ever closer to our Lord and to find balance, feasting and fasting which makes our vocation true and pure. May God bless you.