Are You Taking Your Cue From Twitter’s Lent Tracker This Year?

Are You Taking Your Cue From Twitter’s Lent Tracker This Year? February 9, 2016

LentAsh Wednesday marks the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent, a penitential period of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for Christians worldwide. Fasting also happens to be one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and is practiced faithfully by Muslims during Ramadan – a period lasting up to 354 days a year.

So what’s the deal with fasting? Does it make us holier, thinner, or grumpier?

Possibly all three depending on our disposition. However, I believe the key to its sanctifying virtue is, not so much the weight loss or the self-mastery, but the conversion of heart that the discipline will hopefully engender in our spiritual life and practice.

So no awards for those of us who come out the other end of Lent 20 lbs lighter, with a reduced craving for candy, and surplus cash due to walking past – rather than into – Starbucks on the way to work. No awards, that is unless our fasting is somehow linked to a fundamental change in our spiritual and moral outlook on life.

So for those who are taking their lead from the Twitter Lent Tracker, which includes everything from Twitter itself, Instagram and beer, to sex, chocolate, Netflix and marijuana, my advice is: forget it, let’s get serious about what we are doing here.

Last year Pope Francis asked us to reconsider the essential purpose of fasting during Lent. According to Francis, fasting must never become superficial. In the words of the early Christian mystic John Chrysostom:

“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

It really comes down to understanding the penitential aspect of Lent and applying it in a way child-774063_640that exemplifies its true value. Francis reminds us that our offerings need to enrich the quality of life of others. In his words, “I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”

His Holiness’ advice for Lent is that even more than candy or alcohol, we fast from indifference towards others.

“Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”

Describing what he calls the globalization of indifference, Francis notes that . .

“whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.” 

In other words,

“We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”

“What are you giving up for Lent?” If you want to shrink your waistline, abstinence from carbs, candy, and alcohol will do it. But if you desire a conversion of heart, a more spiritually refined fast is called for. One that reawakens compassion for others, service to the needy, and a renewed attention to our interior life.

Isn’t that worth fasting for?

Photo Inserts: Wikipedia Commons / Pixabay

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