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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lent - Various Fastings

“Our motive in Lenten renunciations ought not be limited to penance in reparation for sin. Rather, exercises of self-denial are for the sake of arousing in us a deeper hunger of soul. The image of fasting is especially apt here. Even mild forms of self-abnegation in our eating habits do more than simply empty us of indulgent tendencies. By keeping the self waiting, refusing it immediate gratification, we open ourselves to a fundamental spiritual truth: The willingness to deny ourselves awakens in us a capacity to give ourselves in greater love to Our Lord...In this sense, all practices of self-denial are exercises of love meant to refine our spiritual focus, so that the bridegroom who may have faded somewhat from our need becomes again our primary love.”

Fr. Donald Haggerty

This is not only true with food.

(Though on a side note, I think we, as Americans, underestimate the power that an abundance of food has over us. We rarely want for anything. Our groceries are full of items from every corner of the globe. As a semi-regular cook, I love having the variety of things to use to make meals. How many of us, if we really set our mind to it, couldn't have a meal of almost any style in front of us in less than an hour from when we decide, finally, what it is we want? We sometimes spend more time debating the merits of this food choice or that one than we do actually consuming the food. We grow so used to the variety and selection that we can't decide: “No, what do YOU want for dinner, dear.”

And yet, do we always see the abundance around us for what it is: a glorious gift from a loving Father? I doubt it. I absolutely enjoy a good meal, but how often do I really stop and acknowledge that I am blessed by God to have such tasty opportunities? I like to think that I am grateful more often than not, but it is still good to be reminded.

Which is why we practice certain disciplines of diet within Lent: to put food into perspective. “No meat on Fridays” really isn't that hard to do. A nice piece of fish, some pasta, a cheese pizza, a nice salad and cup of soup...wow, what a sacrifice, right? But what I've found is that, in our daily lives, it is really difficult to THINK before you EAT. The sausage biscuit that I warmed up in the microwave is half-consumed before I even think about it. So even little efforts of avoiding meat on Fridays of not snacking in between meals or giving up a favored treat help us gain perspective. The hunger of the body helps to feed the hunger of the soul...but I digress.)

Oddly, the quote of Fr. Haggerty above reminded me of Seinfeld. That is probably some level of heresy, though I certainly don't mean it to be so.

(In fact, I see Seinfeld as being very indicative of the human tendency toward self-involvement. In its absurdity, it illuminates pettiness and selfishness in our own lives. I find that illuminating quality to be compelling, in addition to finding it terribly funny in the farcical circumstances that surround the show...another digression.)

There is an episode of Seinfeld where George gives up sex. He gives up having it, simulating it, and even thinking about it. He devotes himself to reading and studying and channels all of the energy he used to devote to sexual gratification into other areas of his life.

He gets smarter. He enjoys life more. He teaches Derek Jeter how to hit.

Fasting isn't just about food. It is about anything in our life we come to value too greatly. It is about TV, impure sexual impulses, video games, excessive overtime, college basketball, a good cigar, a hobby, a fine wine, mmmm chocolate donuts (wait, that's food right? I told you.)...what ever it is that deadens us to the movement of God. Not just “negative things”,either. TV, sex, games, work; none of these are evil in and of themselves. But we have a hard time keeping them in perspective in our lives. We allow them to take large chunks of our day away from us, and when we do, we allow them to supplant something more beneficial. Maybe it is our job, or our family, or our time with God, but ultimately, when anything becomes so dominant that it begins to obscure a properly ordered relationship, it is a problem.

George's self-denial opened up new worlds to him. He was able to feed other hungers that had been masked by his preoccupation with sex. The same should be true for us. When we deny the pull of some external thing, we should find that we can be more attuned to other matters. Maybe we can give more of ourselves to our family, our co-workers, our fellow parishioners. Maybe we can feed our hunger by turning to God.

Eventually, George gave in to his impulses and returned to his semi-bumbling ways.

Sometimes, we do too. Maybe it is the Monday of Easter that we go right back to whatever we gave up for Lent. Maybe it creeps back in slowly. (Sometimes, by the Grace of God, we actually free ourselves from some spiritual habit or another.) But that is the beauty of the liturgical cycles. Next year, about this time, we'll be presented with the opportunity to right our course yet again.

Loving Father, help me to hand myself over to you so that I can love you as you deserve.
Renew the call of love you made to me and rekindle my desire to follow you.

A Prayer for Homecoming

Our Father, we have wandered
And hidden from your face;
In foolishness have squandered
Your legacy of grace.

But now in exile dwelling,
We rise with fear and shame,
As distant but compelling,
We hear you call our name.

And now at length discerning
The evil that we do,
Behold us, Lord, retuning
With hope and trust to you.

In haste you come to meet us
And home rejoicing bring,
In gladness there to greet us
With calf and robe and ring.

O Lord of all the living,
Both banished and restored
Compassionate, forgiving
And ever caring Lord.

Grant now the our transgressing,
Our faithlessness may cease,
Stretch out your hand in blessing,
In pardon and in peace.


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