Posted by: liturgicalyear | March 22, 2012

The Grace of Fasting

I’m crabby today!  Just plain crabby & hoping I can find a way out of this hole.  It’s really nothing in particular – just a bunch of little things:  I’m tired; I’ve been working long hours; the house is a mess, and I’m the only one that seems to notice; my teenage daughter is begging for correction about the differences between rights and privileges; and on top of it all – I’m having a seriously bad hair day.  Humidity is my enemy!

I don’t want to stay here.

Not too far from where I dropped off my daughter at school, I have a morning meeting.  Rather than drive home, I went to Panera for breakfast and a place to hang.  The first thing I did after settling down in a booth with coffee and a bagel was to stop and bow my head, bury my face in my hands, take a deep breath, and pray.  “Out of the depths I cry unto You, O Lord!  O Lord be attentive to my cry for mercy!”  (Ps 130:1-2)  Jesus, I want your peace.

I know what I need to do.  I must “Lift up my eyes to the heavens from whence comes my help.  My help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Ps 121:1-2).  Focusing on ourselves, our worries or aggravations, and our own insufficiencies cause us to forget to lean on the sufficiency of God.  Look up, not down.  Look to Him, not to myself.  Therein lies peace, hope, strength, and love.  I am incapable of turning myself around on my own!

Lent is a time that reminds us of God’s sufficiency.  I once tried to give up coffee for Lent (the operative word being “tried”).  I’m absolutely comatose in the morning and am unable to function for hours without a cup of coffee.  How pathetic is that?  Needless to say, that fast didn’t last too long.  But it gets me thinking, do I have that same dependency on God.  Do I allow Him to carry me through my coma?  In all truth, the answer is “not always”.

Last month, I ran across an excellent meditation on fasting in the Magnificat.  It really got me thinking:

This technique of fasting has to be completely subsumed within a spiritual dynamism if it is to succeed in bearing a fruit which only the Holy Spirit can give: namely, prayer.  Of course, Christian fasting is not primarily a sort of dieting that functions to the benefit of someone’s physical or psychological equilibrium.  That is hardly adequate.  The physical hunger must point directly to hunger of a different kind:  for God.  Bodily and spiritual hunger are harmoniously conjoined in a fasting which is undergone in the Spirit and only then can make any claim to being a technique of prayer…

Before fasting passes into prayer, and the one can no longer do without the other, it will have to burrow out new depths in a person’s heart.  Fasting affects him in one of his most vital rhythms:  the dual rhythm of nourishment, occurring alternately as need and as satisfaction.  From the very first moments of his existence outside the womb, man’s being is structured by the sequence of these two factors.  In this way he is able to stay alive and is gradually enabled to locate himself vis-à-vis everything around him.  The newborn child feels hungry or is sated.  Want and satisfaction, hunger and satiety, each with its characteristic aspect of pain and pleasure, are constantly alternating.

The more the adult person develops towards the ground of his existence, the deeper the need becomes and the less he is in fact satisfied by the material sustenance served up to him.  The day comes when a hunger and thirst for the living God are born within him and, over and above all earthly sustenance, are engraved into his body.   Father Andre Louf, OCSO, Magnificat, Feb 2010, p. 344

The Lenten fast can move us to hunger and thirst for God if we turn the moment’s desire for what we’ve given up into desire for God.  The vehicle for expression of that desire is prayer.  When the moment of human weakness stares us down and tries to tie us down to this passing earthly existence, we must trust in God’s sufficiency beyond that very weakness, using it precisely to draw us to heaven.  “Lord, Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.”  “My Jesus, mercy!” “Jesus, I trust in You!” or simply, “Help me, Lord!”

Isn’t that, after all, the message of the cross?  The paradox of death and life, of guilt and innocence, of despair and hope.  God transforms human weakness into Divine strength when He is at the center.  And, in that place, He can “make all things new,” (Rv 21:5) even my crabbiness.

We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world  Anne

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