What are spiritual practices? How do we recognize and participate in the ways that God is transforming us? Many Christians set aside time to fast at the beginning of each year, and during the season of Lent. I have found that it is helpful to study, and also dialogue with others who have a committed faith and an in-depth knowledge of these time-honored practices.
Father Christopher Jarvis is a committed Christian, a scholar, and one of the pastors in his local parish. He holds a BA in Business Studies from Spring Arbor University (an Evangelical, Free Methodist school). He eventually discerned a calling and went back to school. His studies led to the Franciscan University and to the Pontifical North American College in Rome, Italy. He was ordained as a Deacon in St. Peter’s Basilica. He returned to Traverse City, was ordained as a Priest, and named as Associate Pastor of Immaculate Conception.
This is a portion of a recent dialogue with Ftr. Jarvis: On Lent and Fasting.
How would you explain the Season of Lent to us?
Lent entails fasting and penance. It’s essentially the 40 days in the desert like our Lord. He went for 40 days in the desert. He was tempted. He didn’t eat [Matthew 4.1-11; Mark 1.12-13; Luke 4.1-13, NRSV]. It’s not exactly something that you say, “Woohoo, can’t wait for that!”
Fasting reorders us into what we are made to be
Fasting enables us, disposes us, to grace so that God can transform us into Christ, into that truly Christian disciple. We were created good in a right order. We could commune with God in the Garden. We fell. We sinned. With that sin, Adam and Eve put us into this disorder [Genesis 1-3]. What Lent is about, what fasting is about, is reordering.
God creates order. We talk about the beauty of order and the disgustingness of chaos. Chaos brings us anxiety and agitation. Order is a beauty which calls us forth.
When we’re in Lent, we’re reordering, by fasting from food, by increasing our prayer, by giving alms. Giving alms is a way in which we detach ourselves from our possessions. We’re reordering our passions so they are properly subjected under our intellect and will. We become more like we were created to be, like Adam and Eve in the Garden with this great gift of being in line, being in order.
With Lent, we can’t say, “I’m gonna’ pull myself up by my own bootstraps.” Just because I fast doesn’t mean I’m getting to Heaven. The Olympics are going on. You see these great athletes. Some of them could be atheists or secularists, but they’re well-ordered.
We need grace. What was the Grace in Person? Jesus Christ took on our flesh, perfectly ordered. He was able to open the way and show that excellent path, the Way, the Truth, and the Life [John 14.6]. Therefore in Him, with Him, and through Him, we are able to become reordered. He is the Gate [John 10.1-10].
How would you speak to our expectations for Lent?
Of course we’re pointed toward the end, but what is the change in us? It is that beautiful finish of Lent. It is Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and then His resurrection. It’s Easter.
What do we have happening at Easter? It’s the pouring out of love into our hearts. The whole idea of Lent and reordering is to receive, to be transformed.
What are we created to do? To be receivers of God’s love. He created us so that He could love us. And then He created us free, so that we could love Him back. He gave us the freedom to love Him, to receive the grace to love Him.
In Lent when we reorder, we dispose ourselves to be able to receive grace.
Would you give us some practical suggestions for fasting?
Make it hurt a little bit.
1) Give up something you like, even 1/2 the day
2) Pray more, more intentionally, and more relationally
3) Giving, make a stretch
4) Give the first minute of our time to Him at the end of our day, the First-Fruits
* images from The Gospel According to Matthew (1993, Bruce Marchiano)