So, how’s Lent? I’m guessing that on Ash Wednesday you walked up and rang the doorbell. Having stepped into the foyer of Lent’s home, let’s turn around and look again at the front door that opened to us that day–fasting. It’s also the back door that we’ll pass through on Good Friday, as we head out to the garden of Easter Sunday.
Try not to cringe. The spiritual masters of every major religion, and even health gurus, hail the benefits of fasting to mind, soul, and body. Christian fasting, though, comes from a different place: heartache–our love for Christ who “loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20). Spiritually speaking, when we occasionally deny ourselves even something good, we set our own thoughts and desires aside, hollowing out a space inside to let God in. Unlike anything else in our super-sized world, fasting reminds us that no comfort-anything can substitute for a genuine, life-changing desire for God and the experience of his mercy.
We need that mercy, not just for what we’ve done, but for what we’ve been a part of, even if only by our silence. Referring to himself, Jesus once prophesied, “The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Mt. 9:15). Because of the Resurrection, the bridegroom will never be absent from our world. But as a society, we often act as if he is. He certainly has been “taken away” not only from individual decision-making whenever he doesn’t even enter the equation, but from expression in public life. Yet Pope Francis remarks, “The respect due to the…non-believing minority should not be arbitrarily imposed in a way that silences the convictions of the believing majority….[T]his would feed resentment rather than tolerance and peace” (EG 255).
God’s “absence” is felt in alarming violations against life, marriage, and religious liberty: the HHS Mandate, requiring almost all employers to pay for employees’ contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs, and the trend in government and culture to redefine marriage. Because overreaching doesn’t stop there, these threaten to engulf, not only businesses and institutions, as they already have, but families, your family.
It’s time to push back. God honors not only our prayers for others, but our penance, our prayer-in-action. Reading the signs of the times, we are being called to fast. As a friend of mine says, it’s a matter of being love-sick. If we are filled with Christ’s love, we should also be filled with his grief: of being scorned and marginalized, of offering life and being rejected. Fasting is about caring so much for another that we forget to eat.
Why not explore Lent’s home by opening the fasting doors on other days, too, especially Fridays? To learn how click here. Guaranteed, God will be there to meet us. Baptism has already made Lent’s home, God’s home, ours. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to renew in us the apostolic zeal that proclaims with our lives the good news of his mercy.