Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Sexagesima Sunday - 12 February AD 2012

On Fasting


Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lenten Observance

“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.”[1]

    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 Purgatory.)

    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.”



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