Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
At the outset of Lent, many of us think about what we are going to give up or fast from for the next forty days. For some, this is an opportunity to try something new. For others, we fall back into tried and true habits. Finding the right balance with our fasting and spiritual practices is important.
For a number of years, I tried a shotgun approach to fasting. I would forgo anywhere between four to six different foods and habits with the highest intention of going without any of them. But with this theory of fasting also came the temptation, conscious or subconscious, to let some of these practices slip as Lent wore on. As long as I made it to Easter with one penitential practice in place, I was fine.
This is not really good fasting, nor is it good discipline. Of course, the old stand-by, giving up chocolate, is not exactly the best of fasting either. Now, I love my sweets, and giving that up year after year does make it tough at times in Lent. However, when things become routine, they can lose some of their effectiveness and this is especially true of fasting in the Lenten season.
We can come to expect that we are cutting something out temporarily knowing that we’ve only got to make it until Easter to pick it up again. However, Lent stands as a microcosm of the spiritual life. The three hallmarks of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in Lent, also work as the basics of our spiritual journey with the Lord. We give up that which is sinful or takes us away from God. That’s fasting and the first stage of the spiritual development.
Prayer and almsgiving are two sides of the same coin and reflective of the higher stages of a spiritual life. Prayer helps us grow in our knowledge and relationship with the Lord. Almsgiving is what helps us grow in our concern for those in need and put our faith into action. But if our fasting is weak, that is, either easily given up or never much of struggle for us, how can we grow in our ability to turn away from more drastic things like the sins that hold us back from true holiness?
I invite us all to make good use of fasting this year. May we give up something that is meaningful, doable, and that will help us be more focused on God in this holy season.
Peace and Goodness,