I may be a newbie Catholic, but I have an idea about Lenten fasting that might alarm you. Ordinarily, see, we “give up” something pleasant for Lent. Then, at the end of the season, we once again indulge in whatever it was that we “gave up” in fasting.
What if we just went “cold-turkey” and never took up again that which we gave up for the Lenten fast?
Yes, you read that correctly. I am saying, what if every year at Lent we gave up something different, and walk away from it forever until, at the end of the line, we had nothing left to give up? You would probably be choosier on what you gave up, right? In a way, this would be like the character in the movie Brewsters Millions.
Before you go and write me off as a wacko on an austerity kick, think about the purpose of Lent. It is a time of repentance. A time for looking in the mirror and acknowledging our faults. Faults that we would like to walk away from forever. Surely I can think of one thing a year like this that I want to give up, and that I want to let go of forever. Hopefully, we are taking these kind of faults into the Confessional with us routinely.
Some people give up everything all in one shot, like St. Anthony the Great did (see portrait above), who gave up everything and headed to the desert. Or like when some become a priest, for example, or a religious, you see, under the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. And yet during Lent, even these brethren are required to “give up” something too.
Perhaps I’m crazy, but as someone who is 49 years old I’m looking at, on the pessimistic side, giving up between eighteen (to age 67) and forty-eight (age 97, optimistic!) years worth of pleasant things, or habits, or practices that I hold dear. And this doesn’t include the very real possibility that I die in the next quarter hour, and thus have nothing left to give up anyway.
As for me, I’ve lived long enough to realize that the cluttered collection of “luxuries” that tie me down now number far north of the upper limit on that optimistic number “fifty” (to age 97!) that I’ve set for myself. And isn’t it true that day in, and day out, the clutter that keeps us from the Lord can build? I could probably add 50 new unnecessary items to my life in a year, if not in a month, if I let my unchecked desires chase after them.
But it is, after all, better to give than to receive. For example, for Lent during the first official year I was a Catholic (2008-2009), I decided to “give up” a portion of my lunch hour by going to daily Mass. The funny thing is, after six weeks of going to Mass daily that first year (on weekdays mind you), I continued going to daily Mass. Since a parish is close by, within walking distance of my office, I now can’t imagine not going to daily Mass for as long as I am able.
So, you see what I mean? That which I “gave up” really turned out to be a blessing that I received. Hmmm.
I bumped into the prophet Isaiah today and found these words on fasting from the Holy Spirit. To my mind, these thoughts (from Chapter 58) buttress my resolve to “give up” everything for the LORD, even if I do so only one year at a time. Take a look,
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Tell my people their wickedness,
and the house of Jacob their sins.
They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the law of their God;
They ask me to declare what is due them,
pleased to gain access to God.
“Why do we fast, and you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”
Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.
Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
Busted! Now, standby for 18 Lents/years worth of suggestions,
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly, (1)
untying the thongs of the yoke; (2)
Setting free the oppressed, (3)
breaking every yoke; (4)
Sharing your bread with the hungry, (5)
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; (6)
Clothing the naked when you see them, (7)
and not turning your back on your own. (8)
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!
If you remove from your midst oppression, (9)
false accusation and malicious speech; (10)
If you bestow your bread on the hungry (11)
and satisfy the afflicted; (12)
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always and give you plenty
even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined homesteads.”
If you hold back your foot on the sabbath
from following your own pursuits on my holy day;(13)
If you call the sabbath a delight, (14)
and the LORD’S holy day honorable; (15)
If you honor it by not following your ways, (16)
seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice—(17, 18)
Then you shall delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will nourish you with the heritage
of Jacob, your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
Lord, give me the strength to fast as you will. Amen
My blog neighbor Tom McDonald has a few ideas on how to work out your salvation through Lent. Check them out, as you may find them helpful too. Take a look at St. Gregory the Great’s Lenten hymn while you’re at it.