Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
“In labor and painfulness, in watching,
in hunger and thirst, in fasting often ...
I will glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
The Epistle this morning was
originally addressed to the members of the church which St. Paul had founded
in the Greek city of Corinth on his second missionary journey. One of the
main reasons for his writing this letter was that some of the new Christians
were trying to get the rest of the community to adopt more and more Jewish
practices. They were trying to convince others that the only way to be a
good Christian was to begin by being completely a Jew.
We know, of course, that this is
false. The coming of our Lord did not do away with any of the moral
teachings of the Old Testament, but it did render the ritual prescriptions
of the Law of Moses useless. For example, it is no longer necessary to
offer animal sacrifices, nor to keep the kosher food laws.
In this Epistle, St. Paul mentions
some of the difficulties he had to endure, while dealing with this potential
subversion of his relatively newly made converts. And, he speaks of these
things with the conviction that enduring them gave him spiritual power. He
tells some of the “adventure story” which you can read in the Acts of the
Apostles; of scourgings, and shipwrecks, and or escaping through windows in
baskets, and so on. And with this list he mentions “thirst and fasting,”
right up there with some of the more exciting things.
The Church takes, so to speak, a
page out of Saint Paul's book, in recommending the practice of fasting and
abstinence to us—throughout the year, and particularly during the
approaching season of Lent.
The Church's reason for asking us to
fast is much the same as St. Paul's. By our fasting, It is telling us that
we will be able to obtain power—both spiritual and physical.
Through fasting we hope to obtain a
measure of control over our bodily inclinations. Excessive food and drink
tend to make us want even more food and drink, and to indulge all of our
other human appetites. One excess seems to drive another; with gluttony
moving us to laziness, and laziness driving us to idleness, and idleness
driving us to impurity, and so on. So, in asking us to fast and abstain,
the Church is hoping to help us to break this cycle.
She is also telling us that if we
become used to denying ourselves some legitimate pleasures here and there,
that when we are tempted by some illegitimate pleasure, we will be more
practiced in saying "no," and backing away from the temptation.
There is also a measure of penance
in fasting and abstinence; particularly when done in response to the
dictates of one's confessor, or to the laws of the Church. The Old
Testament is filled with references to people who did penance, and averted
God's righteous anger, by fasting. We should never forget that there is a
temporal punishment due to each and every sin we commit—and that punishment
will be satisfied either here on earth, or later in Purgatory. (If anybody
needs to be told, missing a few meals is better than the “hard time” of
Lastly, there is a positive side to
fasting. It tends to sharpen both our intellect, and our appreciation of
holy and spiritual things. Anyone who has had a big lunch and then tried to
attend a lecture or a business meeting knows what I am talking about. And,
that's only the physical part. It is really difficult to raise the mind to
spiritual things when it is more concerned with indulging in the joys of
food and drink.
We have, as of today, only a week
and a half left until we begin the season of Lent. This is the time to be
planning how you will spend your Lent; to think about your schedule and when
you can get in some extra prayer and some spiritual reading; to consider
what you will read; to organize your thoughts about fasting and abstinence
and whatever else you might decide to give up.
But, let me leave you with one more
point to consider. Fasting by itself is nothing more than a physical
exercise. For it to be spiritually valuable, we must not think in terms of
our own abilities; we must not become impressed with ourselves, and how much
we are able to give up; thinking of ourselves as great spiritual athletes.
We ought to begin our fasting with a good Confession, and with a prayer to
almighty God, that He will help us to remain in the state of Sanctifying
Grace, and that He will make use of our fasting to mold us into humble and
holy people, acceptable to Him.
We are not exactly like the seeds
mentioned by our Lord in the Gospel. As men and women, we are capable of
moving—we have the intellect and the will to change our location in the
“garden” —we are capable of changing from a bad location where God’s graces
will not be fruitful in us to one where they will be fruitful. Our
intellect can overcome disbelief. Our will can overcome temptation. With
prayer we can drive back the thorns that threaten to choke us. Best of all,
we can join our Lord and His Apostles as their partners.
That is what the Epistle describes—a
sort of partnership, entered into with God, by Saint Paul. The labors were
exhausting, but they paled in comparison to the benefits. If you have any
doubt whether or not you have the tenacity and the strength to enter into
the same partnership, remember what He said to St. Paul: “My strength is
sufficient for thee, for strength is made perfect in weakness.”