Friday, February 20, 2015

Astonishing Discoveries during Lent

Dear Parish Faithful,

We begin Great Lent and the practice of fasting from certain foods and drink on Monday, February 23.  This fasting is an essential component of  our over-all Lenten effort as we, as human beings, are a psychosomatic unity of "soul and body."  For the soul/spirit to be liberated to some extent from "this world," and "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life" (I JN. 2:16), the body must be disciplined to some extent, so as not to keep us overly enmeshed in the desires of the flesh.  As a desert father once said, "I discipline the flesh in order to save the body."  And Christ Himself fasted for forty days in the wilderness as He prepared for His ministry that would culminate with the Cross.  We follow the example of the Lord when we, too, fast for forty days. We should not reduce Great Lent to this "food fast" - a very common temptation - but we cannot eliminate this fast if we take Great Lent seriously, by some pseudo-spiritual reasoning that treats the urges of the body as inconsequential.

I would once again like to rely upon Fr. Alexander Schmemann's Great Lent as a sure guide in this essential aspect of the upcoming Lenten season:

    There is no Lent without fasting.  It seems, however, that many people today either do not take fasting seriously or, if they do, misunderstand its real spiritual
    goals.  For some people, fasting consists in a symbolic "giving up" of something; for others it is a scrupulous observance of dietary regulations.  But in both
    cases, seldom is fasting referred to the total Lenten effort.  Here, as elsewhere, we must first try to understand the Church's teaching about fasting and then
    ask ourselves:  how can we apply this teaching to our life ...?

Fr. Schmemann begins his approach to fasting based upon the typology of the Old Adam who broke the fast; and the New Adam who kept the fast.  Consequences of great significance followed after these two very distinct decisions and two very different paths:

    What then is fasting for us Christians?  It is our entrance and participation in that experience of Christ Himself by which He liberates us from the total
    dependence on food, matter and the world. By no means is our liberation a full one. Living still in the fallen world, in the world of the Old Adam,
    being part of it, we still depend on food.  But just as our death - through which we still must pass - has become by virtue of Christ's death a passage
    into life, the food we eat and life it sustains can be life in God and for God. Part of our food has already become "food of immortality" - the Body and
    Blood of Christ Himself.  But even the daily bread we receive from God can be in this life and in this world that which strengthens us, our communion
    with God, rather than that which separates us from God. Yet it is only fasting that can perform that transformation, giving us existential proof that our
    dependence on food and matter is not total, not absolute, that united to prayer, grace, and adoration, it can itself be spiritual.

    Ultimately, to fast means only one thing:  to be hungry - to go the limit of that human condition which depends entirely on food and, being hungry,
    to discover that this dependency is not the whole truth about man, that hunger itself it first of a spiritual state that is in its last reality hunger for God

    It is for this reason that we need first of all a spiritual preparation for the effort of fasting. It consists in asking God for help and also in making our fast
    God-centered.  We should fast for God's sake.  We must rediscover our body as the Temple of His presence.  We must recover a religious respect for
    the body, for food, for the very rhythm of life. All this must be done before the actual fast begins so that when we begin to fast, we would be supplied
    with spiritual weapons, with a vision, with a spirit of fight and victory.

    Great Lent, p. 93, 96, 97.

On a personal and domestic level, everyone must set some goals that are realistic, but yet challenging, and make every effort to stay with that initial "plan" throughout Great Lent.  Perhaps in the process, if we actually take Lent seriously, we can make some of those astonishing and liberating discoveries about food, the body, and the world around us, so that we move from the level of being consumers to the level of being Eucharistic in our approach to life.

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