There’s fasting and then there’s fasting! If fasting is going to be effective (and we should want to effectively fast) then we have to be motivated in the right way and know why we fast; we must have a good reason. In today’s Gospel the question of fasting arises. John’s disciples we can presume really want to understand what’s behind the fasting they are not seeing Jesus’ disciples adhering to. The Pharisees who are also fasting, basing it on their tendency to judge and criticize probably don’t want to learn but rather pass judgement on what they see as another ‘rule-broken’. I think it’s safe to assume that they are not going to really understand or accept the bridegroom’s place in all of this, and not only because they don’t accept Jesus as the Bridegroom. In order for religious fasting to be efficacious we need to accept and understand the end and see our fasting as a means to get there. How is the discipline and practice of fasting going to get a person closer to God (His Son) than to be with Him, body, blood, soul and divinity? But here we are, and we are not with our Lord in the same way as His Apostles were, and so we fast that through our practice we might draw ever closer to Him.
The Pharisees saw Jesus’ practice and that of His Apostles as an affront to the rules which they strictly adhered to. But strict adherence didn’t bring them and it won’t bring us closer to Christ. That’s not to throw away the rules! On the contrary, had they known what fasting was meant to offer them, they would have joyfully approached it and may have been more open in their inquiry as John’s disciples were; we can safely presume they recognized the Bridegroom and followed Him.
The same applies today. There are many that see fasting as passé, and don’t see the spiritual benefit to it. It takes work, discipline, a desire for a stronger will; but we must be motivated in our faith – if we’re motivated then perhaps we will fast in the way fasting was intended. It’s benefits are not short-term but lasting. It’s important exercise for our faith and our relationship with Christ, entering and allowing ourselves to enter more deeply into our relationship with His Son. May God bless you.
Yesterday, we were marked with the ashes and heard the words, repent or turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel. This wasn’t to imply we didn’t believe the Gospel before we received the ashes, it was simply to affirm our commitment, and I can’t imagine there are any among us who feel that commitment is so solid and perfect that we couldn’t do any better. I can’t imagine that any of us truly believe that we live and express our Christian faith so perfectly well, unaffected by sin. We were marked and then we began a season which places a little more emphasis on repentance, reforming our lives and sacrifice to prepare our hearts and minds for the best of all things – heaven! Life with God in Paradise for ever! But we will also have to pick up our crosses, deny certain things that get in the way of following Jesus and turn our lives over to the One who took on the greatest of all Crosses at Calvary. He does not tell us life is going to be easy or carefree. He does not tell us that life will only be joys and triumphs, because we know already it isn’t. He encourages all of us to embrace what cross(es) we’re given, know He is in most in solidarity with us when we’re dealing with them. Jesus encourages us to be strong and courageous. As I offered the words of Archbishop Sheen yesterday the “Cross without Christ is the Sacrifice without love”. I visited the young men at Northmount School for Boys in North Toronto yesterday and asked them to wear their ashes all day. These young men proudly wore their uniforms, a sign that it means something to them (and their parents who work hard for them to go there) to be students at that school. I encouraged them to wear their ashes proudly too when they went home, when they were with their friends, or playing hockey or going to the store with their parents, because to be Catholic Christians means something too and we are especially aware of that as we begin Lent. Extrinsically, we wear our ashes and then intrinsically (sometimes extrinisically too) we carry our crosses; we make sacrifices. Yesterday we fasted and abstained, and then we entered into today; a Lenten day with the spirit of sacrifice and committed to whatever we offer as a sacrifice. As I encouraged the boys yesterday, it’s important that we all take the time to reflect on why we sacrifice what we do, even if it’s something small – because we must do it for love. Sacrifice with love, it’s what configures us all as Christians to the Cross of Jesus Christ. May God bless you.
Many men who discern the priesthood read the timeless classic, “A Priest is Not His Own” by Archbishop Fulton Sheen. In addition to being a wonderfully rich account of what constitutes priestly identity, most especially diocesan priestly identity and spirituality; the title of this book is well chosen; appropriate for our reflection today. Lent as a penitential season is one where we place a little more focus in our faith on sacrifice than what we have received. We don’t become consumed in sacrifice, because that wouldn’t be balanced, but with an emphasis, it’s also an important time for people to really consider their vocations in life, because vocations like the Cross require it. We are not in this world simply for ourselves. The priest is not his own, and his vocation is one of self-giving and sacrifice for others; but that makes it more, not less rewarding. In another one of his great writings, Archbishop Sheen offers us this: “The Cross without Christ is sacrifice without love”. We sacrifice because we love. We give and give because we love, not because we hope to get something in return. We have to flex our ‘sacrificial muscles’ so to speak, so they don’t atrophy; that is we need to practice, reflect, even fail sometimes in order to get better at giving. Lent helps us to do that. There isn’t an authentic vocation out there that doesn’t require the heroic Christian virtue of sacrificial love, but as a Vocation Director sharing my own thoughts and reflections here today, I ask all of our young men out there to consider priesthood. I encourage you to read Archbishop Sheen’s book and other good books on priesthood and be inspired. Don’t be misled, but be inspired. Priesthood is a vocation of sacrificial love but it’s truly a beautiful vocation and one which offers the priest to see God’s glory every day. To see Jesus Christ at work in the world every day. Jesus gives us all the most profound call to action, call to discernment we will hear in today’s Gospel: “if anyone want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”. He does not tell us only to ponder His Cross, which we should, we draw strength for ourselves from it. He tells us to take up our own crosses daily and follow Him. He does not sugar coat anything for us; Jesus doesn’t tell us we should want or will have an easy life. He looks to us who want to follow Him as men and women with strength of character and person, He tells us what we have to do, and calls us. It’s little wonder in a world of 7 ½ billion people, there are less than 1 billion who are followers of Christ, and even less who are truly prepared to follow an even deeper call. This is why the number of priests and religious are in the hundreds of thousands only. Jesus knows not everyone is going to follow Him, but He invites the strong and faithful nonetheless. Are you one of them? Let us reflect today with the Lenten theme of sacrifice and vocational discernment on what the Lord in His great love might be calling upon us to do, and respond with great generosity to Him. May God bless you.